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End of an era, beginning of a new one

An era came to an end Monday, when the playground at Bear Creek Park came down after 30 years.

Growing up in Medford in the 1960s and ’70s, we didn’t have anything like it. I remember playing tennis in Bear Creek Park after the courts were built there — the lights would stay on late into the night, which was great when summer daytime temperatures soared. But playgrounds back then were of the swings-and-jungle-gym variety. Not much to get excited about.

But the Bear Creek play structure was something special. I had moved away after college, but that playground caught my kids’ eyes when we came for a visit in the late 1980s. When we decided to move here, that playground wasn’t the deciding factor, but it was one of the attractions. Our children spent many an afternoon clambering up and down the multi-level structure. My daughter celebrated her seventh birthday with a barbecue party in the picnic shelter.

It was not like other playgrounds. It appealed to children in a way that sterile metal play equipment didn’t. That’s because it was designed with input from schoolchildren themselves.

Part of its appeal was that it didn’t try to be anything in particular. It wasn’t a castle, exactly — but it suggested one. It was whatever a kid decided it was in the moment. It was accessible by small children as well as older ones, and it was built to accommodate adult-size people, too, so parents could explore it along with their kids.

After three decades of memories, was bittersweet to see the playground come down in just a day. But it was time. The old timbers were sagging and splintered, and the whole thing needed to be replaced.

The good news is, it will be — bigger and better, Parks Director Rich Rosenthal says — and like the first one, designed with input from children and built with community donations and volunteer labor. Fittingly, it will be named the Olsrud Family Community Playground, in honor of Sherm and Wanda Olsrud, longtime community benefactors and Bear Creek Park neighbors.

Site preparation starts late next month, and construction will take place over eight days in October. Parks officials say they need 200 volunteers for each of those days for everything from child care to tool and material distribution to actual building. Want to help? Visit the city website for a volunteer application.

Reach Editorial Page Editor Gary E. Nelson at gnelson@mailtribune.com.