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A place for kids to play in Arboles

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Volunteers from the Los Pinos Fire Protection District and about 50 others build a playground at the TARA Community Center in Arboles on Saturday afternoon.

By Brandon Mathis
Herald Staff Writer

ARBOLES – The rural farm and ranch community in southern Colorado has all the coveted attributes of postcard country living – wide-open spaces, rolling foothills and blankets of pasture. The endless waters of Navajo State Park stretch 25 square miles, almost rising to the doorsteps of some residents. But still, something was missing – a place for the kids to play.

The solution was a combined effort by the Tiffany, Allison, Rosa, Arboles Historical Society, the Colorado Health Foundation and KaBOOM!, a Washington-based, national non-profit that helps communities from Canada to Mexico build playgrounds. Now, what just a few days ago was considered a “play desert” will be home to a kid-approved play space, dreamed up and designed by kids themselves.

It all started more than 10 years ago, when Betsy Powell of TARA noticed that kids needed a place to play. She wrote grants and held fundraisers to acquire the capital, but the money was set aside, and progress was slow, she said.

When TARA’s Sandy Gladfelter began to look for ways to help the project along, she learned about KaBOOM!

To date, KaBOOM! has helped build more than 2,300 playgrounds in communities lacking a space where children could interact. Partnering with CHF, they jumped at the chance to help Arboles.

“There was nothing in this area,” Gladfelter said. “The only (playground) that was somewhat available was in Ignacio at the Casino, other than that, you had to go to Durango for the children.”

TARA board president Pat Everett said the partnership with CHF and KaBOOM! was a surprise.

“We never thought we’d get it,” Everett said. “That came as a shock, so we had to decide if we could pull the community together. You know, there’s only five old ladies on this board.”

KaBOOM! project manager Laurel Laidlaw met with Arboles kids in August and asked them to draw their dream playground. Then, she helped those dreams come true.

“I met with their parents, and we looked at the pictures, and we looked at every single piece of playground equipment our manufacturer offers, then we matched them,” Laidlaw said at the playground site, in between hauling mulch-filled wheelbarrows and helping move 20,000 pounds of concrete. “So what the kids drew, we picked out. It’s pretty cool.”

Ayla Bailey, client coordinator for KaBOOM!, said this was a particularly special project. She said they work in inner cities all over the nation, but the Arboles effort was unique.

“We’re really excited to be able to come to a place with no playground within 20 miles,” she said. “This is by far the most beautiful.”

More than 70 volunteers supported the project by providing manual labor, food and more.

“We’re all farmers,” said Jo Carole of TARA. “We work like dogs.”

Sara Monge of CHF said the foundation has a focus on healthy activity, so playgrounds are important.

“We feel that kids around the state deserve to play,” she said. “If they’re not playing, they’re just sitting around. This is a way to get them out and increase their physical activity.”

According to KaBOOM!, children within half a mile of a playground are five times more likely to be of healthy weight.

Nearby, 8-year-old Gracie Westbrook of Arboles seemed to know what to do.

“All playgrounds are fun,” she said. “I’m just gonna play with my friends.”

bmathis@durangoherald.com

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