‘I Helped Build That’

More Than 200 Volunteers Descend on West Bank Park in Great Falls to Construct New Playground

KaBOOM!

Just like that, another playground popped up in Montana in less than a day – this time along the banks of the Missouri River at West Bank Park in Great Falls.

Featuring colors – brown, green and yellow – chosen to mimic its surroundings and equipment selected to enrich those surroundings, the new playground breathed life into a park often overlooked because of its location across the river from the more popular parks bordering downtown Great Falls. That should change, however, as the new playground is the centerpiece of a park that’s experienced several recent improvements and features equipment children won’t find anywhere else in Montana – at least for now.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana (BCBSMT) partnered with KaBOOM!, Great Falls Parks and Recreation, Benefis Health System and Kiwanis to bring the park to life on Saturday, August 16. KaBOOM! is a national nonprofit dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids and has built more than 2,900 playgrounds across the country. The Treasure State build that day lasted a mere six hours with the help of nearly 200 volunteers, but it wouldn’t have been possible without months of planning, fundraising, recruiting and dreaming.

“West Bank Park has undergone a transformation over the past two years and with the completion of the play structure it has become a premier riverfront park,” said Patty Rearden, Interim Great Falls Parks and Recreation director. “The addition of the play structure has made West Bank a destination for families to recreate, and has provided a much-needed park and playground for the adjacent neighborhoods. This has been a remarkable community project and the results will be enjoyed by citizens for years to come.”

The playground is the fourth of its kind built in Montana with financial and volunteer support provided by BCBSMT. The first playground was built in East Helena in 2014, the second in Billings in 2015 and the third in St. Ignatius in 2016. BCBSMT provides about 90 percent of the funding, approximately $90,000, and a large contingent of volunteers. In fact, about 60 volunteers from BCBSMT’s offices in Great Falls and Helena contributed to the West Bank Park build.

Working with the City of Great Falls was truly a community driven effort

The playground is the fourth of its kind built in Montana with financial and volunteer support provided by BCBSMT. The first playground was built in East Helena in 2014, the second in Billings in 2015 and the third in St. Ignatius in 2016. BCBSMT provides about 90 percent of the funding, approximately $90,000, and a large contingent of volunteers. In fact, about 60 volunteers from BCBSMT’s offices in Great Falls and Helena contributed to the West Bank Park build.

“Working with the City of Great Falls was truly a community driven effort,” KaBOOM! project manager Bryan McNamara said. “It was great to have so many community members not only come out to help build the playground, but also participate in the planning and execution of build day. The city has had a vision for West Bank Park, including a nature-themed playground, and it was their commitment to the process that made it happen.”

Children sketched their dream playgrounds at a planning session in June, and many of their ideas – colors and equipment – were incorporated into the final plan. Among those ideas were climbing structures, including Rushmore, a new and unique structure that features flexible ramps that were a hit during the playground’s grand opening celebration.

“This project has been an amazing experience for the Park and Recreation staff and community members,” Rearden said. “Great Falls values its parks and it has been heartwarming to witness the generosity of our community through their volunteerism and donations of cash, food, tools, supplies and services to make the project a reality.

“… We worked closely with Blue and Cross Blue Shield staff through the entire planning process and build day. I was very impressed by the professionalism of their individual staff members and their commitment to not only this project but to the mission of their organization.”

In addition to the playground itself, members of the community and planning committee decided to include additional projects, like a shade structure, trash receptacles, picnic tables, murals, game table tops and a directional post.

The builds don’t involve machinery, meaning everything must be accomplished with good old-fashioned manual labor – from mixing concrete and transporting mulch to fasting bolts and painting side projects.

“The importance of community participation cannot be understated,” McNamara said. “Involving local community members in the building of the playground and site amenities allows them to have a larger stake in the overall look and feel of the park. All of the parents and other adults who participated can now say, ‘I helped build that,’ which creates a greater sense of ownership in ensuring the park remains a safe place to play for all kids that come through.”