The Bear Creek Park playground, built from the imagination, elbow grease and donations of the community in the 1980s, will be replaced using a similar process before next summer’s end.

Realizing its significance to generations of Rogue Valley kids, Medford officials plan to replace the playground, with careful recognition of its sentimental value to those who grew up climbing the castle-themed structure.

Designed by playground architects Leathers Inc., the play structure was installed in 1987 following an extensive fundraising campaign and construction effort that included hundreds of donors and volunteers spearheaded by Kiwanis Club of Medford, Family Connection, Inc., and the city.

Children drew design ideas, mothers provided babysitting and sandwiches, while residents chipped in to provide materials and manpower.

After three decades of use, the well worn wooden planks, winding slides and other features have gradually been taken out, play features replaced or removed, and areas surrounding the playground showing signs of wear and tear. A dilapidated old restroom flanks one side, while signs of wood rot are evident throughout.

For replacement, city officials envision a similar process, facilitated by JWA Public Affairs and the Medford Parks and Recreation Foundation under the guidance, once again, of Leathers Inc.

Parks and Recreation Director Rich Rosenthal said replacement of the playground has been on the city’s radar for some time, but sensitivity toward the community’s sense of ownership over the park was an important consideration. Thus far, city officials have designated $200,000 toward the project, while grants will likely make up much of the project cost, estimated at a half-million dollars or more.

Rosenthal said having Leathers facilitate design of the new structure was a no-brainer.

“It creates a sense of community ownership, and that’s one of the reasons people are so emotional about that playground. They either helped with it in some way in that 1980s process or their kids grew up on it,” Rosenthal said.

“Most of our parks commissioners say, ‘Hey, I spent time on that, and now my kids or grandkids go there.' We really wanted to be sensitive to that and honor the process that took place in the 1980s that resulted in this great thing.”

Jennifer Wills, watching her two daughters swing at the park this week, remembers the structure being built.

“A little sad” about replacement, she acknowledged its growing state of disrepair as she glanced toward a plywood patch where a slide once hung.

“It will be really hard to replace what is already here, but this one has seen better days. It’s a place with a lot of memories for most people who grew up here,” she said. “I came here as a kid, and now my kids love it here. I hope they’ll be able to bring their kids here and it will be something a lot like this one.”

JWA senior executive Al Densmore, a former Medford mayor and state legislator who was heavily involved with the original playground project, said community input would be just as important in designing a replacement structure as it was in building the original.

Densmore remembers playground work parties in the 1980s, fundraising efforts and helping to relocate the creek that meanders through the park.

“There were so many community members involved, it would be hard to even list them all. My most vivid memory was when I was part of the work crew when the guys flew in from Leathers Inc., and the plane was late. They got here after dark, and we were out there with flashlights because the site had to be prepared,” Densmore said.

Replacement design will kick off with an Oct. 26 event featuring playground designers from New York and students at Roosevelt and Hoover elementary schools. Additional events call for a community picnic, steering committee meetings and fundraising, with project updates posted on the city’s parks foundation website, www.medfordparksfoundation.org.

“When the designers fly in, we’ll send one to work at Roosevelt and one at Hoover. They’ll have the kids come up with ideas, and then the designers will closet themselves for three or four hours in the afternoon and come out with a draft design for community consideration,” he said.

“It’s going to be wonderful to engage the people that were involved before to the extent they want to be, as well as to incorporate new people in the community.”

Molly Case of Rogue River visited the playground Thursday with 3-year-old Tristin. Case said she grew up in Medford and frequented “the castle park.” Case was sad to hear of plans to replace the playground but “can appreciate how they’re going to do it.”

“We would always walk to get ice cream from the store and come here and play until it started getting dark,” said Case.

“I love bringing my kids to play on it whenever we’re in Medford. There aren’t any other playgrounds that are quite as special as this one. ... This park was my childhood."

On the web, see http://leathersassociates.com/

— Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.