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Phoenix to cut the ribbon Saturday on a new playground at Blue Heron Park
Patrick White with Building Between The Lines Carpentry sets a surface pad Wednesday in the newly constructed Blue Heron Park playground in Phoenix. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Benches and tables are ready to be placed in the new Blue Heron Park, which officially opens Saturday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

Blue Herons Park’s playground, destroyed when the Almeda Fire raged through Phoenix in 2020, will reopen Saturday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m.

Federal disaster funds and local donations have created a park that is both more fire-resistant and better accommodates children with challenges.

“It has been almost two years now. We are excited to bring back the playground and get the kids and parents and grandparent that use it back down at Blue Heron Park,” said Eric Swanson, city manager. “We will thank everyone who contributed money and additional time and effort. Together we got to where we are at.”

An ad hoc Blue Heron Park committee consulted on the playground and did fundraising to cover additional playground element that Federal Emergency Management Agency money did not cover, said Swanson.

Medford architect John Duffie was chair of the ad hoc committee. His work continued a long tradition of assistance to the park by the Bear Creek Valley Rotary Club, to which he belongs.

“We are following the same footprint of the existing playground. Our job was to infill what was not paid for by FEMA,” said Duffie. That work includes benches, picnic tables, drinking fountains, shade structures, landscaping and pavers. Much of the existing shade was lost when the fire burned trees.

A fundraising goal of $85,000 was set. So far $45,549 has been given in monetary donations, and in-kind assistance exceeds $11,000. The committee didn’t form until late last year and missed the application cycle for many organizations that give grants for projects.

FEMA provided $374,600 for the rebuild while a Business Oregon grant of $124,866 served as a match. City Council approved a contract last September with Playcraft Systems of Grants Pass to provide the equipment and installation.

Duffie said the committee plans to apply for a $10,000 United Rotary Clubs of Southern Oregon grant when the application period opens, and will apply to other foundations as well.

The city of Phoenix has purchased some items the committee is unable to cover at this time so that they will be available to complete features not covered by FEMA. While the playground is complete, other aspects of the area should be finished this fall, Swanson said.

A certified playground safety inspector with the city of Central Point, under contract to Phoenix, performed a final inspection Wednesday of the installation, said Margaret Miller with Playcraft.

ADA accessibility has been added to the features, said Miller, including sensory items on a ramp that accesses play structures

“It used to be where you had ramp access, it was just a rail. It’s called a sensory ramp because there’s activity for play,” said Miller. Among activities are moving a steel ball through a maze and rotating a handle that moves visible gears inside an enclosure.

There are also ADA-compliant seats on swings and a zip-line feature that has solid rails rather than cables. Wheelchairs can be placed on a merry-go-round.

Rubberized tiles have been placed in the play area under an agreement with FEMA that allowed them rather than woodchips that were there previously.

“The playground structures were burnt to the ground primarily because the footing was made out of wood chips,” said Duffie. The new rubberized tiles are fire-resistant. They can also be replaced when they wear out.

“Its’ probably a better choice when kids are kids, and they fall down on the surface. You see this in more and more parks because it’s a lot safer. There are fewer scrapes versus bark,” said Swanson.

Paver installation by Home Depot impressed Duffie. After contact with the Phoenix Home Depot management, the organization supplied all the pavers that cover an area of 4,200 square feet. Managers from the local store and Home Depots from Roseburg to Northern California then descended on the park one Saturday to install the pavers.

Bear Creek Valley Rotary Club approached the city to see if it could help with work installing playground equipment and other features, but learned that the city had the contract with Playcraft.

Duffie then offered his services to the committee and became chair. The Rotary Club has helped the park throughout its existence. The late Bob Seibert, a member and architect, designed structures that were erected in the park. Over the years, club members performed a number of work projects, including assistance with a band shell, picnic facilities and installation of sod and gravel.

Phoenix Public Works crews worked with the contractor and volunteers to install utilities and drainage in the area, said Swanson. Restrooms in the park were damaged but not destroyed by the fire. The Rotary Club repainted the bathrooms.

Major cash donations include First Presbytery Church, $15,000; United Way of Jackson County, $10,000; Umpqua Bank, $5,000; Jim and Pat Snyder, $5,000; Dutch Bros. Foundation, $5,000; Cow Creek Tribe, $2,500; and Bear Creek Valley Rotary, $2,000. Purchases of 30 private dedication pavers have been made at $100 each.

In-kind donations include pavers and other materials at $5,000, plus 250 hours of labor from Home Depot; rock and concrete from Knife River at $3,598; Leave Your Mark landscaping at $2,000; $827 in shrubs from Shooting Star Nursery; 10 trees from Plant Oregon; and three benches and a table from Girl Scout Troop 10267.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.