Despite a stiff, cold wind Wednesday, Annie's Playground in Fallston was filled with parents and children enjoying a sunny afternoon on the first day of spring.
The young visitors enjoyed a picnic lunch, soared on some of the many swings and made their way through areas featuring castle turrets, a massive wooden elephant and a forest.
The playground, which opened in 2005 in Edgeley Grove Park, is the product of an outpouring of love and support by the community to the family of 6-year-old Annie Cumpston, who died 10 years ago this Saturday, on March 23, 2003, after being struck by a hit-and-run driver in downtown Baltimore.
The park and playground are managed by the Harford County Department of Parks and Recreation. Paul Magness, the department's chief of capital planning and development, reviewed records of the number of people who reserve the pavilion at the playground and determined "close to" 20,000 people use the pavilion alone each year, making it among the heaviest-used county recreation facilities.
The 280-acre park, which was originally part of Edgeley Grove Farm, is also home to playing fields used by local recreation council teams, a section of Harford County's Ma & Pa Heritage Trail, a working farm and picnic areas. Magness said Annie's Playground "continues as a focal point."
"There's no question in our mind that literally, tens of thousands of people use that park on a yearly basis," Magness said.
Triumph over tragedy
The Harford County community rallied around the Cumpston family in the wake of Annie's death.
"It ended up becoming so massive; everybody just wanted to do something," Annie's father, Tom Cumpston of Jarrettsville, said of what became a two-year effort to raise money and then design and build the playground. "The community just could not do enough."
Cumpston, 50, spoke to The Aegis Wednesday afternoon at the playground. He said many local school children participated in the design process. Tributes to many other Harford County children who passed away are scattered throughout in the 60,000-square-foot playground, in the form of playground equipment or bricks bearing memorials to the children. A memorial grove dedicated to other children was built next to the playground.
"There's so many children that died too soon that are represented in there," Sharon Perfetti, a longtime Cumpston family friend who coordinated the fundraising and construction projects, said.
Perfetti served as director of Annie McGann Cumpston Playground Foundation Inc., a 501(c)(3) created to raise funds for the playground project, and worked with foundation officers Kelly Haggerty, Anne Askey, Sallie Otenasek and Lucy Lutche, "among many other friends and family that were a major part of putting this together," Tom Cumpston said.
Perfetti said the initial plan involved installing a memorial bench in Annie's name at St. Margaret School in Bel Air, where the girl attended kindergarten. The project became a playground as more and more people expressed their desire to contribute.
She said half a million dollars was raised, and "well over" 1,000 volunteers helped out during the two weeks spent building the playground.
"I just can't thank her enough for all the time and effort that she put forward to make this happen," Cumpston said of Perfetti.
He added: "There's so much time and energy that so many people have done, but she really did head it up and work it through."
Perfetti's children are close in age to the Cumpston children, and the families regularly spent time together.
Annie was the second oldest of four girls – the oldest, Susie, is now 17, Alice is 14 and Madelyn is 11.Cumpston is a vice president and branch manager at First Home Mortgage in Bel Air, and his wife, Megan, is a homemaker.
Annie's 16th birthday would have been Jan. 7, according to a plaque at the playground entrance.
The plaque, which bears Annie's face, and a tribute to her are mounted on a large boulder near the public bathrooms.