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Lights, cameras, play! Willmar Destination Playground ready for its close-up with Saturday grand opening

Shelby Lindrud / Tribune Children and their families have already had opportunities to play on the new playground since Wednesday. The playground has been open on and off, as finishing touches are completed. The grand opening is at 1 p.m. June 24. 1 / 4
Shelby Lindrud / Tribune Cory Backes of Backes Technology Services installs a security camera Friday at the Willmar Destination Playground at Robbins Island. The cameras will record 24 hours a day and send the video to law enforcement.2 / 4
Shelby Lindrud / Tribune The Willmar Destination Playground has something for everyone, from climbing and slides to musical instruments and swings. The playground is 100 percent accessible for those with disabilities and provides play areas for both toddlers and older children. 3 / 4
Shelby Lindrud / Tribune Backes Technology Services installs security cameras Friday at the Willmar Destination Playground at Robbins Island. The cameras will be on 24 hours a day and will send the video directly to the Willmar Police Department. The cameras were one of the last jobs needing completion before the June 24 grand opening.4 / 4

WILLMAR — By the end of the week, the Willmar Destination Playground on Robbins Island will officially be open for play. While the playground has quietly been open on and off since Wednesday, the real day of celebration is set for 1 p.m. Saturday.

"We couldn't be more pleased with how the playground turned out," said Playground Steering Committee Co-Captain Kathy Schwantes.

Because the playground area is for the kids, the grand opening will be short on prepared speeches and more about opening the playground. A paper chain made by the children during last month's community event to construct the playground will be used as the ribbon. Instead of a ceremonial ribbon cutting, it will be a race of kids.

"It really will be the kids running into the playground," Schwantes said.

The vast majority of the work on the playground was completed during the community building event May 16-25, when hundreds of volunteers worked through the cold, wind and rain to build the 19,000-square-foot, fully accessible playground for the children of Willmar and around the region.

"It is just an absolute feeling of pride. We are so proud of this community," Schwantes said.

Following the community building portion of the work, the poured rubber surface was installed, leaving behind a bouncy surface where children can run and be protected from nasty falls.

"It was the most expensive component," Schwantes said.

Unfortunately, shortly after the surface installation, an unidentified person vandalized the rubber.

"I had noticed there was a couple of handprints and marks on the rubber surface," said Willmar Mayor Marv Calvin, who had checked the park the evening of June 3. He reported the incident to law enforcement.

That has been the only case of vandalism and now the playground is now under 24-hour surveillance with lights and security cameras. Backes Technology Services installed the cameras.

The steering committee feels the community will make sure the park is protected and well taken care of, since so many of them helped build it.

"We're confident that the community will take care of it," said Sara Carlson, fundraising co-captain and executive director of the Willmar Area Community Foundation.

That will mean following certain rules, such as not bringing food into the playground, keeping high-heeled shoes and bicycles off the rubber surface and not allowing pets inside the play area.

"Help keep it clean and safe," Playground Steering Committee Co-Captain Rachel Skretvedt said.

The community took ownership of the park early on, months before the first swing was hung.

"The energy and buzz was there. We had 100 percent faith the community wouldn't let us down," Carlson said.

At least $900,000 was raised for the project. A huge contribution from Jennie-O Turkey Store of $500,000 was instrumental, but there were dozens, if not hundreds, of other monetary gifts.

"We had a girl give her birthday money and corporations give hundreds of thousands," Calvin said.

There was also a brisk sale of personalized fence pickets and benches.

"It is a wonderful way to leave a legacy, to honor someone," Carlson said.

The playground project took just over a year to complete and required tireless effort from dozens of people.

"My kids can't get enough of it. The kids are just screaming for more and more," Skretvedt said.

While the playground is the tangible product of the work, committee members feel the most important effect of the project is the feel of community inspired by it. The hope is this will continue even after the playground is open and will move people to continue these community projects.

"The greatest asset is the community was so giving. It was a community build project. I hope to see this ignited a flame," Skretvedt said.