by Joni Astrup
Two aging playgrounds in Elk River will see new life in a foreign land.
The Elk River City Council donated the playground equipment at Orono Park and Baldwin Park to the nonprofit KIDS Around the World. Part of the organization’s mission is to build playgrounds for children in underprivileged locations outside the United States.
Volunteers from Wayzata Free Church dismantled and removed the playground equipment at the two Elk River parks recently in just a few hours.
“In Minnesota, this is our 28th playground we’ve taken out in three years,” Paul Bierhaus said as the crew took apart the Baldwin Park playground on April 17. “Many of these guys have been on all of them. Some are new.”
The playground equipment will be sent to Rockford, Ill., where it will be cleaned and refurbished for use in another country, likely Haiti, according to Bierhaus.
Donated playgrounds from Woodbury and Plymouth ended up in Poland, according to Elk River Parks and Recreation Director Michael Hecker.
Bierhaus has been volunteering with KIDS Around the World since 2000 and is on the organization’s board. He traveled internationally for 3M for many years and now travels with KIDS Around the World. He has helped install playgrounds in about 30 countries.
“Many, many places where we build playgrounds, they’ve never seen a playground,” Bierhaus said.
He said it’s fun to take the playgrounds apart and then to rebuild them in another country and see the joy kids experience playing on a playground for the first time.
“One of the things you never have to teach a child is how to play on a playground. They instinctively want to do that,” he said.
Bierhaus said KIDS Around the World is a faith-based organization and has been in existence since 1995.
Hecker found out about the organization from his colleagues at the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association state conferences that he attends.
“I found out that the city of Plymouth had a good experience with KIDS,” Hecker said.
He was surprised when he was told Elk River’s two playgrounds would qualify because they are small and have been found to be unsafe and obsolete under the United States American Society of Testing and Materials playground industry standards.
“I was very pleased to find out that we could participate in the program and provide something for underprivileged children,” Hecker said.
The playground equipment removed from Orono and Baldwin parks is more than 20 years old.
A new “destination” playground will be built this year at Orono Park. The playground at Baldwin Park will not be replaced. A swing set at that park that will remain. A larger and newer playground is located at Barrington Park, which Hecker said is only a few blocks away.