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PLAYGROUND TOPS LIST OF RECREATION PROJECTS

Tired of their neighborhood's antiquated, worn-out playground, residents in Cheektowaga's North and South Creek Drive communities banded together two years ago to raise money for new equipment.

They've raised nearly $11,000, thanks to a lot of hard work and fund-raising.

"Outside of schools doing this or churches doing this, there really have been no town movements," said Russell J. Harris, a Willow Wood Drive resident, who began the push for a new neighborhood playground. "It gives people in the community a feeling of ownership."

The town also likes the idea and has put the $82,000 restoration project at the top of the town's list of recreational priorities for 1998.

The town's second priority is acquiring 14 acres adjacent to Stiglmeier Park for use as more park land.

In fact, town officials this week decided to seek grant money from the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in hopes the state would pay for half the renovations at North and South Creek parks, two slivers of park land dissected by Scajacuada Creek.

The town also is looking for funds from the state's 1996 Clean Water/Clean Air Act to help acquire the 14 acres adjacent to Stiglmeier Park, but officials are a little more hopeful about getting money to renovate the playground.

The fact residents raised nearly $11,000 -- and anticipate raising another $9,000 by early next year -- improves the town's chances of getting some state funding, town officials said.

"It looks pretty optimistic. That one may fly," Councilman William P. Rogowski, who oversees the town's Parks and Recreation Committee, said of the North and South Creek plans.

If the town doesn't receive any grants, some officials hope the town can squeeze money out of the budget, bond money for the project or scale back park plans.

"I don't even want to look at those possibilities. I'm hopeful we'll get funding," said Supervisor Dennis H. Gabryszak. "When you get that kind of (resident) participation it's really hard to turn your head on the project."

There's a few old pieces of playground equipment on both the north and south sides of the creek, as well as two picnic shelters and two basketball courts that are in bad shape, Harris said.

Restoration plans show a $40,000 playground facility on the north side, resurfaced basketball courts, a volleyball court and about a one-mile paved biking-walking path running through the parks. A small bridge was built over Scajacuada Creek a few years ago to connect the two parks.

Any action wouldn't happen until next year, but park improvements are needed, Harris said. There are more than 1,100 residents in the neighborhood, many of whom are younger families just moving into the community, he added.

"It's just such an important thing to have in the community," Harris said.

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