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Child's Play

Overton Park’s Rainbow Lake playground gets a makeover.

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It'll be all work and no play for the next few months at Overton Park's Rainbow Lake playground as construction crews update the park with state-of-the-art equipment.

The playground will be closed throughout construction, which began this week, but the fun will resume next spring when the playground is expected to re-open with a massive wheelchair-accessible climbing structure, musical sculptures, and an expanded play area.

"It's an adventure playground, so the idea is to have lots of places where kids can use their imagination. It won't be a cookie-cutter park," said Naomi Van Tol, director of operations for the Overton Park Conservancy.

Currently, the aging playground — the oldest of the two playgrounds at Overton Park — leaves much to be desired. The wooden beams supporting the swingsets look worse for wear, and the two climbing structures are quite small compared to the planned "Up & Down & All Around" structure planned for the park.

The playground's centerpiece, an ADA-accessible wooden climbing structure with multilevel ramps, will connect with the two existing climbing structures to create one giant piece of playground equipment.

Van Tol said the conservancy plans to salvage, refurbish, and incorporate any existing equipment that they can. The swingsets will also be retained, but they will need to be rebuilt, she said.

A small climbing structure made from cargo nets, nicknamed "The Spiderweb" by kids involved in a playground planning focus group, will be erected near the parking lot.

The National Ornamental Metal Museum has designed a custom musical sculpture shaped like a tree trunk. Kids can toss pebbles inside the sculpture, and it will make musical sounds. Additionally, kids can create music on tuned drums that will be installed in a circle in the center of the playground.

"That's a nod to our unique heritage in Overton Park. We have a drum circle that meets here every Sunday afternoon and has done so for years," said Tina Sullivan, executive director of the Overton Park Conservancy.

A concrete tunnel shaped to look like a fallen tree will lead into a sand-pit play area, and concrete will also be used to create a hollow tree trunk where kids can sit and enjoy imaginative play, such as playing school or house.

"Many of the features of the playground are designed to reflect the nearby Old Forest. As kids graduate from the playground, we hope the next playground they visit will be the Old Forest," Sullivan said.

The current playground area is small, but the boundaries are being extended closer to Rainbow Lake to the north and into the picnic area between the parking lot and Lick Creek to the east.

To make sure the playground re-opens by spring, the conservancy pulled funding from future capital projects so construction could begin this week. But Sullivan said they're currently fund-raising to replenish that money. Anyone interested in sponsoring a piece of playground equipment or making a donation can do so at overtonpark.org.

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