A Park Without A Playground

By Christine Schaffran

Manatee Sanctuary Park almost had it all. The park, which overlooks the Banana River in Port Canaveral, Fla., had undergone updates including paved parking, updated landscaping, a paved trail, new benches, exercise stations, and a boardwalk overlooking a river.

All it needed was a playground. The underutilized horseshoe pits were a perfect location for such an amenity. But then a crushing blow—grant funding was denied by the state.

And then the phone call came that changed it all.

“I entered the contest and I totally forgot about it,” says Park Director Gustavo Vergara. “I’ve never won anything in my life.”

Vergara faintly remembers filling out a card to be entered in the third annual Great Play Giveaway that would award one lucky winner a Nucleus/Intensity playground valued at almost $30,000 from BCI Burke. The contest, which was presented by Parks & Rec Business, ran from March to May 2017.

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“The fact that this contest came in was like fate,” Vergara recalls. “It has been such a blessing to the park.”

At 10 a.m. on August 4, city representatives gathered to cut the ribbon on the new playground. Although it sounds like a picture-perfect ending, it was anything but to get there.

The date was chosen to coincide with the last day of a small summer camp run by the city. However, Mother Nature threw a curve ball when the first tropical depression of the season halted work at the site.

“The guys began placing equipment but had to quit because of this monsoon rain,” Vergara recalls. But the rain, which was supposed to linger for a week, lasted only one day. The city departments rallied to bring the park home for the kids.

“The public works department moved a mountain of mulch that morning,” he says with a laugh. “It was like a grand reveal on a reality television show where everyone was scurrying to make sure everything was just right. And in the end, everything worked out.”

The color scheme, which was chosen by the children, actually matched the “branded colors” of the city. The equipment fit perfectly within the confines of the fenced horseshoe pits.

And it’s not just the children who live across the street from the park who were thrilled with the new amenity.

“We had an email immediately from a parent thanking us and saying how much fun her girls were having on it already [on the day of the ribbon cutting],” Vergara says. “So far, it has been all positive praises for the playground.”

Plans for additional amenities—such as swings—are in the works. Vergara says the new equipment is the catalyst for the next round of improvements. But it wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of the “team” that made it all come together on that hot, humid day.

“If there’s one thing that this city does well, it’s act as a team, make it all come together and make it happen,” he says.

And it all happened after filling out one little card for a chance to breathe new life into a riverfront park.

Christine Schaffran is the editor for Parks & Rec Business. Reach her at editor@northstarpubs.com.