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Neighbors celebrate 'awesome' new playground at MLK Park

A brightly colored playground with gleaming new equipment on soft, spongy surfaces and wood chips opened Friday at Martin Luther King Park.

The cost of the $300,000 playground was split by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation and BlueCross BlueShield's Blue Fund.

"They did an awesome job," said Nicole Johnson, 48, who has lived near the park her whole life. "I love it. From what we grew up with, this is a much-needed improvement."

The playground was designed by KaBOOM! with input from neighborhood kids.

"This park is a symbol of what it looks like when we all work together and pool our resources to do what's best for our community," said Masten Council Member Ulysees O. Wingo.

The playground – which includes swings, a 4-seat seesaw, slides and a spinner – was built over several hours on Sept. 20 by some 250 community members. The play area is located in the park near East Parade and North Fillmore avenues.

The majority of volunteers came from the neighborhood, said Zach Garland, the conservancy's community outreach coordinator. More than 100 BlueCross BlueShield volunteers helped, said Julie Snyder, a senior vice president with BlueCross BlueShield.

Shawn Walsh, one of the BlueCross BlueShield volunteers, returned Friday with his two young children.

"I'm watching them on it and knowing that's how it's going to be used by the whole community is such a reward," Walsh said.

"This is a great park," said Stephanie Crockatt, the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy's executive director. "It is a heavily used park. These picnic shelters are full."

Thirty picnic tables were also built for the refurbished picnic shelters near the playground, half of them ADA-accessible.

Crockatt said funds have been set aside by the conservancy to improve lighting and walking paths in the park, redo park benches and put up historic signage.

"We are so excited to have a brand-new playground," said Gina Davis, a nearby resident and conservancy trustee. "It was nice that the community was able to help with the process of picking out the [equipment] and helping to build it."

Twelve-year-old Laniya Sheppard said she hopes to come often. She was trying out the playground equipment with her cousin Alexis Beal. Sheppard said she liked the colors, the soft surfaces and that so much was offered for younger kids.

Carolette Meadows thought the playground was terrific – except for the absence of monkey bars.

"You haven't lived life unless you have been on monkey bars and broken your arm," she said with a laugh.

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