- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 29, 2001

When the playground in the center of Great Falls became outdated and run down, many neighborhood mothers complained to one another. Then Anne Miniter McKay and three of her friends got together and did something about it.

The results of their fund raising and designing can be seen and enjoyed at the Great Falls Grange Playground. The Great Falls Playground Fund Committee raised $90,000, Fairfax County kicked in another $60,000, and in September 2000, the state-of-the-art playground opened at the Grange Park at the intersection of Walker Road and Georgetown Pike.

"Women today can use their business skills to give back to the community in a positive way," says Mrs. McKay, a mother of three who has a background in marketing. "The playground has given the people in the community a place to come and meet in a common back yard."

Because the playground was designed by mothers, it has the features they want most when taking their children to play. It is largely shaded, making it a popular place even on a sunny July day. The park has picnic tables and a covered picnic shelter just a few yards away.

The play area itself features climbing structures of different sizes. The smaller ones give toddlers an adequate challenge, while the bigger structures can keep a grade-schooler busy. The bigger unit features a mock "rock climbing" wall and long slides.

The playground also contains several swing sets, a plastic tire swing designed not to collect water the way a traditional tire swing does, and a foot-powered merry-go-round.

"We thought back to our own childhoods for that one," Mrs. McKay says. "We loved those whirly things, but we hadn't seen those around anymore."

Underneath the wood-chipped play surface is a special drainage system so the ground dries quickly after a rainstorm, Mrs. McKay says.

Lila Surratt of McLean says she often visits the Grange Playground. She says it is a great place for her 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son to play and a shady spot for her infant to sleep.

"This is the perfect park to come to with kids of different ages," Mrs. Surratt says. "There are shady benches for nursing. Plus, it is contained; at some parks, can run off, and I can lose them. It is so well designed."

Near the playground entrance, bronze plaques mounted on large landscaping stones display hundreds of names of Great Falls families, children and businesses who contributed to the playground fund.

With help from the civic group Optimists International, the playground fund committee was able to become a nonprofit group. It received contributions ranging from $5 to $10,000, Mrs. McKay says.

The contributors' plaque was a popular selling point in the fund-raising drive, Mrs. McKay says. The town may change, and its residents may grow up and move away, but the play equipment and the plaques will endure.

"Recognition is important," Mrs. McKay says. "We felt people and the children who played here should be recognized in a permanent way."

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