By: Rob Johnson
The playground at Ralston Park is set to reopen later this month after being closed for the last few years after the equipment became unsafe following a number of harsh winters and use. The cost of the new equipment was raised through community fundraising that netted $98,000, and $42,000 in new debt along with $40,000 from the township’s capital improvement fund.
Township Committeewoman Amalia Duarte, a former longtime member of the township’s recreation committee said the playground’s original equipment was installed when the park first opened in 2002. Back then, she said, the trend for playground equipment was wooden structures.
“They just didn’t hold up,” she said.
The push to initially build the playground nearly 20 years ago was started after resident Teresa Finley formed the Nickelodeon Fund, a nonprofit with a mission to fund, design and build a playground in Mendham, in honor of her son who died from sudden infant death syndrome in 1998.
The original wooden structures were replicas of landmarks in the township, including the Union Schoolhouse and grist mill. The infant play area was modeled after the railroad that once ran through Mendham.
The playground, which sits on one-third of an acre, was recognized by the New Jersey Recreational Parks Association for Excellence in Design in 2002.
Duarte said that recreation commission worked with the West Morris Junior Woman’s Club for a buy-a-brick fundraiser while the department earmarked proceeds for several past 5K Patriots Races for the project. Almost $3,000 was raised by a group of Mendham High School students who held a kid’s carnival a couple of years ago.
“It really became a rallying cry in Mendham,” Duarte said, adding that the Township Committee had other spending priorities for a few years other than the playground.
The playground was partially opened last year, she said, adding that swings were installed along with climbing features with woodchips laid down around them. Duarte said she remembers exactly when the park first opened all those years ago because her high-school aged son was a baby at the time.
“The park was there for the previous generation of kids and it’ll be there for the next one.”
Finishing touches are being added to the playground in terms of grass, flowers, and more and a grand opening ceremony for the new playground is set for April 28 between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. For more information, call the Recreation Department at (973) 543-4555 ext. 222.