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Hundreds of volunteers renovate park

Hundreds of volunteers are now donating their time and sweat to renovate the playground at Friendship Park, and there are still days of work left.

The first such effort took place about 16 years ago, when community members collected about $60,000 in donations that were used to build the current playground, said Pennies for Your Park II Chairman the Rev. Alan Hickman.

After years of wear, tear and beating the playground needed some maintenance.

Renovations to the park include more than just putting in new wood and adding a new coat of paint. Pennies for Your Park II Co-Chair Reba Beebe said there will be some additions to the playground when the work is complete, including the Black Hole, Cradle Bridge, Shaky Suspension Bridge, Rock Wall, a mural painted by local children and a splash pad, which is a concrete slab with embedded sprinklers.

Hickman said the Splash Pad will be built last to avoid disrupting the rest of the project. Jill Stegall, who is instructing the youngsters in the creation of the mural, said most of those involved range in age from six to 12 and the mural will include images commonly seen along Hobolochitto Creek, such as wildlife and trees.

Another addition to the playground will be the Tot Lot, Beebe said, that will cater to the younger crowd.

Currently, the effort to raise money for the renovations has reached about $130,000, but more donations will be needed to provide for everything in the plans, Beebe said. That donation figure does not include the $4,000 that has been pledged but not yet deposited, she said.

Work on the park began Tuesday, and brought out about 228 volunteers that day, Beebe said. Wednesday attracted about 185 volunteers, and Beebe said she expects those numbers to pick up as the work progresses.

“I think it’s wonderful when you got that many people come to volunteer,” Beebe said. “It’s amazing, the response from the community.”

Beebe said the work brought people from all over, including 10 high school students from Portland, Maine, who are on their spring break. Also, helping were a few members of the Pearl River Roller Derby.

“I’m having a blast, I don’t know about everyone else,” said Gloria Travis, also known by her Roller Derby name “Red Eye.” “I’m using power tools and learning new stuff.”

Travis said she has learned how to measure and cut wood, while avoiding the loss of any fingers. She said a few of her teammates also were volunteering at the park on Tuesday.

The event also brought out local officials, including Coroner Derek Turnage, Mayor Ed Pinero and council members Wayne Gouguet and Jason Todd Lane.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for the community to work together for the kids,” Gouguet said.

Renovations at the park are expected to wrap up this weekend, with a ribbon cutting ceremony scheduled for Sunday.