Residents of Mt. Washington officially opened a new playground, designed for children of all ages, under the first sunshine in a week. City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector cut the ribbon with a pair of giant, red scissors. Then the children who would use the park, at North West Park on West Rogers Avenue, snipped another section of ribbon.
The leaf-green and sunshine-yellow slides and towers rest on a spongy rubber surface. A bright-blue sail shades the toddler-sized tower. There are swings in two sizes, a climbing rope, platforms to climb on to enjoy the bucolic views and benches for sitting and enjoying the children at play.
The park was built for children of all ages with accessibility for people with disabilities in mind, according to Emily Shaw, who with Lindsey White led the playground project for the Mount Washington Improvement Association.
"This park has been a generation in the making," White said in her opening remarks.
White said she talked to neighbors who remembered an earlier, unsuccessful, attempt to build a neighborhood playground.
Once organizing for the playground began, residents in the 1,600-household community offered their support. It took two years from design to ribbon-cutting, said Shaw, who praised the efforts of the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, especially Denise Caldwell, of capital development and planning for the department.
"She was so responsive," Shaw said.
"We tried to plan with the community," Caldwell said in a phone interview. She said that in response to feedback from officials of the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital, a second phase will add more accessible swings that children at the hospital will be able to enjoy. "We would like them to use the play space," Caldwell said.
"We tried to build a playground that's for every age," Shaw said. She said residents were involved in the planning process, shown blueprints and asked their preferences in a survey.
The resulting swings, slides and towers were chosen from their responses, Shaw said. "I think we've had success in meeting everybody's needs," she added.
More to come
The $200,000 budget funded playground equipment, a fence between playground and ball fields and benches.
The chain-link fence came down and the playground opened unofficially earlier this spring. "It has been packed ever since," White said.
In remarks before cutting the ribbon, Councilwoman Spector, who represents the 5th District, praised the efforts by state and city officials to obtain slots funding for projects such as the playground. And she noted that while she is retiring from the City Council this year, she plans to continue "doing things for my constituents in the city."
She praised the neighborhood's continuing efforts to improve the park.
"It has the potential to be a Shangri-La," said Spector.
"This is such a great opportunity, great potential for this community and all the neighborhoods in northwest Baltimore," said Del. Samuel "Sandy" Rosenberg, who represents District 41.
Rosenberg recalled that the University of Baltimore proposed building housing on the former athletic fields after its intercollegiate sports program was discontinued.
"We said no," he said. The General Assembly passed a bill to prevent the development. Mayor Martin O'Malley's administration negotiated the transaction that created the park, whose land is under a 99-year lease from the university.
Northwest Park is the site of not only the new playground, but also the community vegetable garden, ball fields used by the Mount Washington Soccer League and Roland Park Baseball Leagues and a driving range.
"We aren't finished yet," Spector said, noting that she would like to see the large, white vacant building beside the playground restored for community events. "Everybody will enjoy this place," she said.
Caldwell said the playground is only the first step. New parking, a redesigned entrance and ball field improvements are also planned. In addition, the Jones Falls Trail, linking the inner harbor and Cylburn Arboretum, will pass through the west side of the park.
The playground opening included refreshments donated by Whole Foods and crafts led by local businesses and organizations, including Nik da Pooh Designs and the Eric Waller Mount Washington Community Vegetable Garden. The Pharmacia gave out first-aid kits, and Hula Honey sold icees to raise funds for the newly established Friends of Northwest Park. The group will raise funds to maintain the park, according to Shaw.
Rosenberg said slots funds were appropriated for improvements to neighborhoods surrounding the state's casinos as well as the five neighborhoods around Pimlico Race Course, including Mt. Washington. Slots funds are expected to be available for 20 years, with the amount increasing when a casino opens at National Harbor in Prince George's County.
The playground is already a hit with a 6-year-old Eva Marsbach, who said she favors "the long slide."
"We've been coming since it opened unofficially," said her mother, Tara Marsbach, who said their home is within walking distance. "This is great to have right here."
"We are here almost every day," said Alex Galea, who attended the opening with his wife, Rachel, and son Luca.
"They really needed it; there was nothing here," said Rachel Galea.