Story and photos by DOTTY NIST
In Santa Rosa Beach on March 10, the opening of something new to the area was celebrated, a children’s public playground with swings, climbing equipment, slides, seesaws, and a number of other activities.
A local group of mothers of small children had sowed the seed for the park several years ago by approaching the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) with the request for such a facility. With the number of children in the area on the rise, the mothers saw the need for a playground in the local area to help children get outdoor exercise and recreation and allow families to connect.
The mothers named their group “Mission Play Park!” Cindy Meadows, District 5 commissioner at the time of the mothers’ request, offered assistance and proposed putting the playground in place on land that had been purchased by the county next to Helen McCall Park on Moll Drive. Current District 5 Commissioner Cecilia Jones, who succeeded Meadows in 2008, enthusiastically took up the cause of the project upon taking office.
The BCC awarded a $55,000 bid for engineering services to Preble-Rish in 2008 for the design and permitting of the play park. Gum Creek Farms and J.A. Dawson were enlisted as contractors for the site work and playground, which cost approximately $353,506.
Throughout the project, the Mission Play Park! mothers, including Jenny Dargavell, Cathy Potter, Rhonda Cloutier, and Denise Leblanc, continuously provided input with the planning and construction.
“We are just so thrilled with this,” Dargavell commented at the March 10 grand opening for the park. She recalled the “long winter” during which she and the other Mission Play Park! mothers conceived the idea for the park. She credited the local Sowal.com Internet message board for helping the group connect and mobilize.
“We are a community here, we’re not just tourists,” Dargavell said of south Walton County.
After expressing thanks to Jones, Dargavell told the gathering, “We have other projects in mind, so stay tuned.”
Jones complimented the Mission Play Park! mothers on their “Cadillac taste” which, she commented, was something she shared with them. She credited their input for the shaping of the park into a quality facility for the community.
Jones was eager for the opportunity to enjoy the park with her 2-year-old grandson.
The dozens of children attending the park grand opening with their parents were quick to try out the park equipment.
“We just love it,” said Sonia Pascalli, an organizer for the Santa Rosa Beach Mommies social play group. Pascalli was accompanied by her son James.
The Santa Rosa Beach Mommies group was started via the online social networking portal “Meetup.com” with the aim of helping community families with young children, especially those new to the area, get acquainted and spend time together. Pascalli said that up to now the parents and children have had to travel to play parks in the Destin, Panama City Beach, or Freeport areas.
In addition to swings, slides, climbing and other equipment, the new park features a covered pavilion, sidewalks, tables and benches, along with restrooms. Large oak trees on the site provide shade.
The addition of a water feature, a splash pad, is planned soon.
Currently under construction adjacent to the play park is a $140,000, 80-space parking lot that will serve both the park and the sports fields of Helen McCall Park. The park is located south of U.S. 98 on Moll Drive, a short distance west of the U.S. 98/CR-393 intersection.