The vision started when Tauni Morris and her family needed a place for her four children to stop and stretch their legs midway through the drive from Yellowstone to North Platte.
“We needed a playground to play at because the kids were like ‘ahhh,’” Morris said. “So I was looking. Landers, Wyoming, had a playground, so I was like ‘Sweet, let’s go.’ It was an epic playground. It was awesome. I was like ‘This is the coolest playground I’ve ever seen in my life.’”
In October, Morris, and close friend Emily Wurl, also of North Platte, launched a community-build playground project to bring a new, dynamic playground to their town.
The difference between a community-built and a city-built playground is that in a community-build project, individuals raise all the funds, rather than getting them from the city. Then when construction happens, it’s done by volunteers rather than a city-contracted crew.
The exact project took some time to come into form. Prior to creating their own playground campaign, they joined North Platte’s committee in charge of planning a playground that was going to be installed at Cody Park on the north side of North Platte.
After serving on the committee and seeing how the playground was planned and built, Morris said it gave the two of them a hunger to make their dream playground a reality in North Platte. Beyond just the new playground, the idea of getting the residents of North Platte together to design and construct the playground was attractive to the tandem.
“I probably saw a community-build for the first time in 2009 when we were visiting Orange City, Iowa,” Wurl said. “They had a playground that a bunch of dads had built, and it was just really sweet and magical. It was made out of wood, something unique and different. I just thought, what a cool idea to have the community come together and just focus on a common goal and build something that would be long-lasting.”
That idea had been in her mind since then, but turning it into a reality was easier said than done. The wheels started moving, though, while Wurl was in the waiting room of her daughter’s vision therapy appointment in Omaha.
“One of the moms I was sitting by grew up in Orange City, and she told me ‘Oh, I was on the children’s committee that helped design that,’ and I thought ‘Oh my gosh, here I have another run-in with someone who has some knowledge about this and is excited about it,’” Wurl said.
After a lot of discussion and planning, Morris and Wurl reached out to Leathers and Associates, the group that had done the Landers playground, and saw the organization had a model for community-build, and it was a match.
Currently, their community-build park is in the pre-design phase. They’ve received approval from the North Platte City Council to go ahead with surveying adults and children on their dream playgrounds, and Wurl said the feedback from the community has been positive so far.
The pandemic has altered the general Leathers’ process, making the whole timeline a little bit different — a challenge they hadn’t foreseen when the idea was first materializing.
“Normally, they would come, begin their process, and we would have this big party in the park or something along those lines to kick off fundraising,” Morris said. “All that would come together, and they’re willing to travel, but everything is weird right now, and we’re nearing winter, so it’s not exactly the best time to have a whole thing outside.”
The next step in the modified process will be the design reveal which will be held virtually, and that will really begin the fundraising efforts.
While they are working to develop the design, the pair wants to build a park with accessibility for children of all abilities at the forefront. Though it likely will not end up being officially deemed an all-inclusive playground, from an ADA certification standpoint, Morris said a poured rubber surface is non-negotiable in the process, as it provides a safer base than wood chips or gravel. Currently some of North Platte’s schools have inclusive playgrounds, but there are no public options in North Platte at the moment.
Morris and Wurl are hoping this project will bring North Platte together as a whole, provide a point of pride for the community, give people a place to come off the interstate and let their kids play for a while.
For more information, visit the project’s Facebook page here.