When the playground equipment in Cedarburg’s Willowbrooke Park was deemed unsafe last spring, it was quickly removed, leaving the park with an empty playground and city with an unplanned expense.

That’s when a group of volunteers – along with The Cedarburg Friends of Parks and Recreation with support from the city – jumped into action. Now, one year later, Willowbrooke CommUNITY Playground is a reality, thanks to the hard work, creativity, and muscle of a dedicated group of volunteers working through The Cedarburg Friends of Parks and Recreation using its 501c3 status, who requested funds from the Greater Cedarburg Foundation to assist with purchasing and installing new playground equipment.

“We took it one step further, deciding to create and build a playground serving people of all abilities,” says Melissa Bitter, the group’s finance manager who helped lead the charge.

Design plans began last September, as the group sought out and worked with Leathers and Associates, and followed a similar playground design as Port Washington’s all-inclusive Possibilities Playground. Then fundraising efforts began with passion and enthusiasm that spanned the gamut – rummage sales, movie nights, an online holiday shopping event, a karaoke/silent auction event, goat yoga, and many local businesses donating a portion of their proceeds in December.

As a result of these efforts, along with funds raised from the 2019 GCF grant and a contribution from the city, the park now exists as a place where people of all abilities can come together and spend quality time. An accessible, soft surface gives children and adults with mobility limitations an opportunity to enjoy the playground alongside their families. An inclusive orbit swing accommodates people who use a wheelchair or walker. Chimes and bongo drums add to the fun, and the new fence offers one way in and one way out – a key to keeping kids safe since the park is near the neighborhood pond.

“Cross-generational play is so important to building strong family bonds and relationships,” says Bitter. “We’re so happy to offer aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, and parents with children having special needs the chance to play with others of different ability levels and backgrounds to help prepare them to cope with a diverse world as an adult.”

Once the park was designed and materials ordered, it was community members who constructed it, cutting boards, installing posts, hanging swings…building the entire playground from the ground up in only six days.

“During construction, we fed our volunteers with donations from neighbors as well as local businesses,” says Bitter. “We connected with home-school families, too, and their teenagers staffed our childcare tent, offering volunteers a childcare option while they built the park. We also actively reached out to community organizations and area businesses to ask for their support for the park re-build, and they came out in flying colors.”

The playground is located northeast of the Ozaukee County Fairgrounds in the Willowbrooke Park. lt serves the families in the Willowbrooke neighborhood and the greater Cedarburg area, but also Ozaukee County children looking for a fun and safe place to play. Further, the park is open to families who visit the Ozaukee County Fairgrounds for events such as the Ozaukee County Fair, Maxwell Street Days, and numerous other events held there each year that attract people from all over the state of Wisconsin.

Concludes Bitter, “Having the GCF support our project gave us credibility and trust, so that others would feel comfortable donating, and we are very grateful. This significant donation gave us the momentum we needed toward reaching our goal.”

Patty Gallun-Hansen

A ribbon cutting ceremony marks the opening of the new Willowbrooke Playground.