As hundreds of kids ran around Pioneer park at Kids FallFest Saturday, harvesting pumpkins, getting through a maze and rolling in straw, some also contributed toward a new place to play.
Stacy Sommer is leading the effort toward Helena’s Playable Playground, which will encompass half an acre of Centennial Park, for kids of various ages, abilities and needs.
At the fest, she was adopting out, complete with papers, stuffed animals for $3, working toward the $600,000 she thinks the project may cost. Grants have already contributed some, most recently a $56,000 gift from Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation for the “tot lot” portion of the playground.
The playground would likely also have particular areas for the 2-to-5 set and for older kids. It would also have special visual and tactile features Sommer and many others say are enjoyed by kids with autism and other disorders.
On a diagram of a possible playground, she pointed to a small cave-like structure where one might find shelter.
“Children with autism actually need a place to hide,” she said as her own son switched from vibrant enthusiasm to quietly curling in a safe spot and back again within a few minutes.
Ramps within the multi-level structures will be accessible by wheelchair, allowing people who need them to not only reach the equipment, but to bring their chairs onto it. That’s aimed not just as kids but at their parents or grandparents, Sommer said.
Half of the cost of the project may go toward the ground surface, but she said that’s necessary to make the place more accessible. Wheelchairs can’t make it across rock or wood chips, she said.
She said the Lowe’s grant, for one, allows two years to spend the money. That gives the project until June 2014.
Elsewhere at FallFest, sponsored by Downtown Helena Inc., kids — many already testing out their Halloween costumes — could shop for pumpkins in a pumpkin patch, which also included hay bales to dance atop or jump off of.
They got lost in a maze. They ate caramel apples prepared by The Parrot Confectionery They searched for needles in a haystack — actually in straw for small sticks indicating certain prizes sponsored by numerous local businesses.
The also got to sit in the rumble seat or main cabin of a 1931 Model A Ford owned by Dr. Nick Smith, who replaced the water pump just a few days ago.
The kids honked the horn and had their pictures taken. Patients at Smith’s HealthSouce Chiropractic and Progressive Rehabilitation will vote on the best picture, with the kid winning some ice cream.
“Mainly, it’s to let the kids have fun with the car,” he said.
Reporter Sanjay Talwani: 447-4086 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter.com/IR_SanjayT