A coalition of Lebanon parents is working to make play space more accessible to young children, especially those under the age of five. The Lebanon Plays project has two primary objectives: create play spaces that are accessible to families on foot, bike, or public transit, and create play spaces that are safe and fun for the youngest Lebanon residents.

The initiative sprang out of the Safe Routes to Play initiative, a year-long study funded by the Healthy New Hampshire (HNH) Foundation and Dartmouth-Hitchcock. Safe Routes to Play seeks to improve the safety and ease of biking and walking to recreational areas for young children and their families. The Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission, in partnership with Upper Valley HEAL and the City of Lebanon, organized parents around this issue. The study revealed that Lebanon was in need of play spaces for young children that are accessible by foot or by bicycle without the need of a car.

After receiving the results of the Safe Routes to Play study, the next step was to form a volunteer group of Lebanon residents to use the information from the study and continue the work. Lebanon Plays recruited a coalition of interested parents to work on the design and implementation of the project. The group’s role is to gather parents, grandparents, and others interested in improving the City’s playgrounds. Ideally those involved would serve as advocates by helping spread the word and, perhaps, even doing some of the work on the ground. While the group only meets for a couple hours per month, they are quickly accomplishing their goals.

They selected Colburn Park as the location for the new playground because there is so much family-friendly activity there already: summer concerts, the farmers market, the library, and countless community events. The Park is also walkable from several Lebanon neighborhoods and accessible by bus. Colburn Park is accessible all year round and already has picnic tables, many trees to provide shade, and public bathrooms nearby, making the area a natural choice as a location to create additional play space.

While there are several playgrounds in the neighborhood, none are designed to be safe for this younger age range. Moreover, many are housed within a school or private organization and aren’t always accessible to the public. In addition, while Colburn Park does have a small play area already, it is not big enough for all of the children that are frequently in the park for community events, nor does it have equipment geared toward younger children. In order to reduce the risk of injury to children ages five and under, the new playground may include features like low crawling and climbing space, ramps, steps, riding toys, tunnels, and open space. These features reduce the falling risks posed to small children on playgrounds designed for older children.

Paul Coats, Director of Lebanon Recreation and Parks, has been involved with Safe Routes to Play and Lebanon Plays since their inception and is a strong advocate for the projects. Coats said of the Recreation Department’s involvement, “We as a community are listening, your voice matters, and community activism matters. We have lots of playgrounds around the community but we don’t have them for children ages one to five years old. Now we know what we need to do, and Lebanon Plays is helping us launch into that process.”

As of the time of this writing, the group is looking at proposals from several companies for different playground designs. After selecting a design, the group will begin fundraising and generating community excitement for the new playground, culminating in a volunteer event to actually build the playground.

Coats is excited about the parent and community participation in the Lebanon Plays project, and about the opportunities it creates for the children of Lebanon to play safely and enjoy an active childhood close to home. “We’re creating an atmosphere where they get to go to a place that’s near their neighborhood to go out and play. And they reap all the benefits of going outside and exercising, but they get to call it play.”

For more information or to volunteer, email lebanonplays@gmail.com or contact Paul Coats at Lebanon Recreation and Parks.

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