The children scampering up and down the wooden play structure at Donnelly Park likely haven’t given much thought, if at all, to how the park came into being, but there are plenty of Turlock residents who remember four days of hard labor that gave rise to the Children’s Play Park.
Now all those people who lugged the lumber, nailed together the bridge, tightened the screws on the slide, and sanded down any rough spots will have a chance to reminisce and share their memories of how a community came together to bring some fun to Turlock’s young citizens.
Built by volunteers and paid for with private donations, the Children’s Play Park marks 18 years as part of the Donnelly Park landscape and some of the original organizers are holding a mini reunion for all those who took part in the community effort.
The mini reunion will be part of the Love Turlock event on May 7. Those interested in sharing their memories can meet at the play structure at 9 a.m. May 7. The organizers will have photos, a short slide show, newspaper articles, and the kids' design drawings on display. A videographer also will be on hand to create a short documentary style film about the project.
“This really was a community driven project,” said former Turlock Mayor Brad Bates. “Every day there would be 750 to 1,000 people come out to volunteer their time and work on the project. We were serving three meals a day and there were jobs for everyone. It was like a military operation, it was so well organized.”
The origin of the park began with an acute observation from Bates' then 10-year-old daughter Augusta Bates.
“We had some friends visiting and we had gone to Oakdale to play at their park,” Bates recalled. “On the drive back my daughter says to me, ‘dad you used to be the mayor, so why do we have to drive 30 minutes away to go play at a park.’ What she said was true and I thought it could be a teachable moment."
The younger Bates took her idea of a play park and presented it to service groups, businesses, churches and the City Council. Along the way the effort collected $110,000 in donations for the park, said Bates. The New York based Leather and Associates, a firm specializing in helping communities design and erect playgrounds, was hired and the plans were put into motion.
After a mere four and a half days the volunteers were celebrating the ribbon cutting at a one-of-a-kind play structure.
“It was really something to see it all come together,” Bates said. “Even now you go over on a Sunday and it is just packed with kids playing.”