In the heart of the coolest part of Missoula, Montana, and I assure you such a place can and does exist, is a playground park like no other I’ve ever seen. When I say it’s the tallest playground ever, I am so beside myself I can’t possibly be expected to back it up with facts or figures.
Of all the playgrounds I’ve seen however, and none will argue I’m anything short of an expert on the subject, this one is the tallest, has the most structures, and provides the most play opportunity for the widest range of kids. How do you make a place so great? The answer is easy, it’s very hard.
Leathers & Associates, Inc. did the planning and volunteer coordination, and Missoulans — is that what you call the people of the town? — got together to find the right people for the right jobs. Everyone worked on planning and coordination for months.
Now I’m sure I’m going to goof this up, but I’m looking at my notes here and it looks like it took 9 Valentines 4,000 years to construct it. That doesn’t seem right. Sounds high, doesn’t it? Blast this illiteracy of mine! Hang on, I’ll get an expert.
Okay, got it figured out. It turns out it says it took 4,000 volunteers 9 days to complete construction. That makes more sense. It still sounds high, doesn’t it? See it for yourself, I’m sure you’ll agree.
It’s estimated by officials that the main play structure tops out at 40 feet (though my dad thinks it’s more like 30 feet and I think it’s closer to 150 feet). The materials alone cost $200,000, and that’s after a lot of it was donated.
Seems like the whole city had a say in what would make Dragon Hollow Park great, and a hand at actually making it great too. School kids did mosaic artwork, welders made decorations for garbage cans, sponsors paid for their names on slats of fence, and the local utility companies didn’t even blow a fuse when the digging hit a fiber-optic line, a telephone line, an electric line, and a gas line…
Well, I mean they did technically blow a fuse, but not metaphorically.
It really takes something special to pull off a park like this and keep it going; safety. The park is regularly inspected by city and park officials for safety and accessibility. Everything from the tip of the spire right down to the ground (and a couple feet below it too) have all been specially engineered to minimize the likelihood of ouchies, owies, booboos, and other assorted hurties. I’m sorry I only know the clinical terms for those things, but they are varieties of injuries common to children on some playgrounds.
Open spaces are screened to stop kids climbing out. The sawdust is actually a splinter-free engineered wood down to 16-inches deep. And even their fence wraps the full length of the place so us youngsters can’t make a break for the river the second you turn your back. I’ve done that before and I think it’s a hoot, so it’s a design consideration they had to work around.
One of the joys I had were the plastic slides. They allow you to generate several milliamps of electricity you can recycle just by touching someone else, effectively â€œdonatingâ€ the charge to their unsuspecting arm, face or earlobe. It’s just amazing what they’re doing with butt-generated electricity these days.
They even have a neat game for grown-up kids called Pay Parking but that’s not what it really is. It’s actually a low-priced skill game. For just 25Â¢ an hour the daddy-man, miss mama or nice nanny get to test their memory with the interactive parking machine. See, they poke in your license plate number, it talks to you, then the parental person selects the time in hours (and thereby quarters), it talks to you some more, and then, if you’ve won the game it gives you a souvenir receipt to take home. Pretty nifty, huh?
They thought of everything!
Dragon Hollow Park is located at 101 Carousel Drive, right in the heart of downtown Missoula, on the waterfront, next to the famous Carousel. If you can’t find it, ask anybody who isn’t you and they’ll point you in the right direction, or check them out online at www.carrousel.com/dragon_hollow.php.
Above: One of the many, fine creations of Leathers & Associates, Inc., the Dragon Hollow Playground in Missoula, Montana is among the fines.