Park funds

The Jimmy and Dot Rickman Playground appears in the backdrop of this image Monday at Central Park in Murray, while the toddler playground at the park provides the foreground. Both playgrounds are part of a plan to form a concrete path to the Bailey Pavilion.

MURRAY – Murray-Calloway County Parks and Recreation received some very welcome news on Monday when Gov. Andy Beshear announced through the Kentucky Department for Local Government that Central Park would receive almost $20,000 for a walking path and toddler playground meeting Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

A DLG news release said Beshear announced his selection of 41 projects totaling more than $4.3 million to receive funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). All selected projects will upgrade parks and recreation spaces across Kentucky, the release said.

“Murray and Calloway County will use $19,767 to add an accessible walking path connecting the ADA accessible playground to the ADA accessible bathrooms and replace the old toddler playground with a new, accessible Tot Lot,” the release said.

Having applied for a grant more than a year ago, Parks Director Ryan Yates said he was very surprised to learn the news on Monday when reached for comment about the funds. He said that in May 2020, he met with Bob Long, a nonprofit leadership studies professor at Murray State University and former employee of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Yates said he did not have any grant-writing experience and wanted some advice, so Long connected him with one of his students, Erin Tillery.

“I kind of presented to her what I wanted to do and why it was a passion for me,” Yates said. “I told her I had a toddler – my youngest son was 1 at the time – and I said that an ADA playground means a lot to me. I don’t have a kid with disabilities, but I know people who do, and I have a cousin who does, and growing up with something like this would have been great for him.”

The ADA playground is formally known as the Jimmy and Dot Rickman Playground. The grant proposal said the toddler playground – which Park Board Chairman Jason Lovett said is the playground on the sand near the swing set – and the Bailey Pavilion bathroom are currently not accessible to people with disabilities. The proposal also noted that the walkway from the playground to the bathroom is not paved and is not safe for strollers or wheelchairs, as well as being inaccessible for elderly people. 

The grant proposal originally envisioned matching $32,026 for a total project cost of $64,052. Although the parks were not granted that full amount, Yates said the funding would help move the parks in the direction of their goal of making all facilities fully accessible to everyone.

“When we built the ADA playground, we knew we would be adding to it and making additions to it as we went along,” Lovett said. “One thing we want to do with this is make a path that goes over to the Bailey Pavilion, where we can have some ADA-accessible restrooms. That might not sound like a great big deal, but right now, if you have someone using that playground and they need to use the restroom, they’ve got to go down that street and then up to the parking lot there, and that’s not the ideal situation with a wheelchair. 

“So we can do that and we can also incorporate some more into that ‘tot playground’ there, and that can allow families to be together where maybe they have a child that needs to use the ADA playground and they have other children that can use the tot playground, and they can kind of be in one area. Anything we do to that area is an added benefit, so I was pretty excited about this.”

Lovett said the equipment in the toddler playground has held up pretty well over the years, so they would likely just add onto that area.

When reached by email, Tillery said she was excited to learn that her efforts had paid off for the park.

“I am happy to hear the grant was awarded to build ADA accessible amenities in our local park,” she said. “It was an honor to write the grant and work with Mr. Yates.”

LWCF is a federal program designed to protect important natural areas, help local communities acquire land for outdoor recreation spaces and to develop or renovate public, outdoor recreation spaces such as campgrounds, picnic areas, sports and play fields, swimming, boating or fishing facilities, trails, natural areas and passive parks, the news release said.

“Parks and recreation spaces are an important part of every Kentucky community,” Beshear said. “They provide safe spaces for exercise, community-building and leisure, which are all important factors in ensuring Kentuckians are healthy and happy. Ultimately, parks and recreation spaces are a critical piece in building a better Kentucky for every family.”

To receive funding, administered at the state level by the DLG, selected applicants must undergo federal review and receive approval from the National Park Service.       

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund will provide crucial funding for communities in every corner of Kentucky,” said DLG Commissioner Dennis Keene. “We are grateful these funds will upgrade Kentucky parks with accessible trails, playgrounds and more for every Kentuckian to enjoy.”