By Randy Arrington
LURAY, May 7 — On a cold, rainy Saturday morning, nearly 50 local officials and residents showed up at Ralph Dean Park for the opening of the new Imagination Station playground.
“It shows a lot of dedication to be out on such a lovely day,” Mayor Jerry Dofflemyer quipped about the weather. “Kids have been enjoying Imagination Station for years, but everything has its time and it was time to replace it. So, this opens the next chapter for this amazing playground.”
The mayor, members of the Luray Council and the town’s Parks and Rec staff officially cut the ribbon on the $350,000 playground project over the weekend, which concludes several years of planning and preparation for this moment.
“It’s been a great project,” Luray’s superintendent of Parks and Recreation Jen Jenkins said. “We’re thankful for everyone who helped make it possible.”
Concerns over the maintenance, upkeep and safety of the former wooden structure began to crop up several years ago. As maintenance costs began to grow, plans for replacement kept being discussed — but for many, letting go of the original “Imagination Station” was a tough decision. Its construction in the fall of 1993 had represented one of the biggest, and arguably “best,” community projects dreamed up and completed in modern decades.
“The community really came together,” the mayor said, reflecting on the hundreds of local volunteers that pulled together to build the large, intricate playground in just five days. “I’m not sure we’ll ever do anything like that again.”
Luray’s original Imagination Station would become part of the wave of wooden playgrounds installed during that era that were designed by Robert Leathers of Ithaca, N.Y. Many examples of his three or four designs produced by Playgrounds by Leathers in the early and mid-1990s could be seen across the region and across the country. Now, after reaching the end of its projected 25-to-30-year lifespan, many are being replaced.
The mayor noted that the playground’s replacement “didn’t happen overnight,” as he went through a long list of “thank yous” on Saturday to those involved at different stages of the project. The new playground was designed and built last month at Ralph Dean Park by All Recreation. Self-touted as the “largest distributor of playground equipment” in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., All Recreation is based in Ashburn, Va., but also has an office in Rockingham County. The company also built a replacement for Springfield Elementary’s aging, wooden “Kid’s Castle” on its playground in April as well.
According to comments made at the ribbon cutting at Ralph Dean Park on Saturday, the old, wooden structure on that playground may be repurposed, potentially to “build a playground elsewhere.” Turner Concrete, who managed the demolition of the original Imagination Station, saved the lumber with the intent of potentially using it again.
The Town is paying for the playground replacement with American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. The design was chosen by a three-member Review Committee made up of local residents selected by the Town’s Parks and Recreation Department. The design they chose among the eight bids submitted by the Oct. 13, 2021 deadline, features a 25-foot climb up steps to a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and a couple of twisting slide choices for getting back down to the ground. Unique swings, an unconventional merry-go-round, a zip line and a music station are among the many pieces scattered across the playground. One station was designed for special needs children who may need a minute or two away from the chaos at the slides, but don’t want to leave the playground.
Page Alliance for Community Action plans to help fund any additional pieces that may be needed. PACA has partnered with all three towns in recent years to provide new playground equipment at Shenandoah’s Wigwam Village, a new splash pad at Stanley’s Hawksbill Pool, and upgrades to the disc golf course and signage at Ralph Dean Park in Luray. The projects were funded through a grant from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth.
There are many activities at the new playground that are sure to keep children of all interests busy and entertained — but there’s one important thing that each visitor to the park must remember to bring with them…their imagination.
See more images from the opening of Imagination Station in our Photo Gallery.