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Cherry Hill Park playground memorial to be dedicated Saturday

"It looks just wonderful," said Chris Plummer, of the Coeur d'Alene Parks Department, as he removed the outer fence from Cherry Hill Park on Thursday, in preparation for Saturday's dedication ceremony of the park in Coeur d'Alene. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

A collaborative effort between local Kiwanis clubs, the Coeur d’Alene Parks Department and local emergency services providers will be celebrated Saturday at a ceremony for a new playground at Cherry Hill Park, dedicated to the police officers and firefighters who died in the line of duty in Idaho and in the Sept. 11 attacks.

And it’s not over yet.

Those involved hope to raise enough money to pay for a water fountain, benches and granite monuments to make an actual memorial for Idaho’s emergency providers and for those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks five years ago. That second phase will cost about $180,000, mostly from donations, City Parks Director Doug Eastwood said.

The first phase of the project – the playground, complete with a fireman’s hat that serves as the main structure, a teeter-totter and a large toy firetruck and police car – cost about $70,000.

The Panhandle and Coeur d’Alene Kiwanis Clubs each donated $20,000 for the playground. The Parks Department put up another $20,000, and the Coeur d’Alene Arts Commission donated $10,000.

Fundraising wasn’t the only part of the project that sparked an all-out group effort. The idea for the playground came from a collaboration of ideas that started about three years ago. The Panhandle Kiwanis Club was looking for a community project. Eastwood, a member and past president of the club, wanted to install new children’s playground equipment at Cherry Hill Park. And Fire Chief Kenny Gabriel was looking for a new home for an old firetruck.

The firetruck didn’t end up a part of the park, but it was Gabriel’s offer that Eastwood said prompted him to contact a playground manufacturer about making firefighting-themed playground equipment.

“Ideas kept getting dropped on the table, and as you looked at and evaluated it, there was the opportunity to do something extremely different,” Eastwood said. “We got away from your standard playground idea.”

The focal point of the playground is a fireman’s hat that serves as a slide and climbing area. The slide comes out the back of the hat, and a fireman’s pole and lookout deck complete the front.

Gabriel has an actual piece of the World Trade Center that will be used when the big memorial is built. He got the piece from a friend and fire chief in upstate New York who responded to the Sept. 11 attacks. His unit lost 14 men, Gabriel said.

It’s men like those the playground is meant to honor.

“That’s something that a lot of kids admire – the folks in that field,” Eastwood said. “And they want to emulate that.”

The memorial will be the first for emergency service officials in Idaho, Gabriel said.

Kiwanis Club member Kathy Bush obtained an American flag that flew over the site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood in New York City. The flag will be raised above the playground during Saturday’s dedication ceremony, then kept on display in the nearby fire station.

The playground came together well, Gabriel said, calling it a testament to the number of volunteers who labored over the project. Kiwanis Club members and other volunteers spent much of last week and all day last Saturday finishing the playground, building a fence and installing surface material.

Gabriel credits the Kiwanis clubs with leading the effort.

“Last Saturday at the work group, they were all over the place,” he said.

Eastwood said one man helped out several days in a row, showing up in the early hours of the morning and staying through the afternoon.

Eastwood said something to him about his dedication, and the man replied that he enjoys the work, but at the end of the day he can step back and tell his grandkids he helped build it.

Gabriel said he’ll meet with Eastwood next week to discuss fundraising options for the second phase of the memorial. People can purchase one of the pickets on the fence surrounding the playground and have it engraved with their name for $30, with the money going toward the memorial. About 200 of the 800 pickets have been sold so far, Eastwood said.


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