Volunteers swarm to help build new Missoula play area

Annie Roth worked for hours building Dragon Hollow on Tuesday, and she's got the blisters to prove it.

After pulling a six-hour shift on construction's opening day, she opened her teen-aged palms to show the raw, red sores emblazoned there like so many medals, then closed her hands again and smiled.

"It's definitely worth it," she said.

Roth and a dozen other members of the Frenchtown Key Club were among more 300 at the downtown site volunteering to pound, grind, cut, dig, paint, sweat and, truth be known, curse Missoula's newest play area into place and form in Caras Park. Like carpenter ants the workers swarmed over the grass next to Missoula's Carousel, about 170 per 4 1/2-hour shift, moving to the whir and buzz of saw blades and the sharp rap of hammers against steel nails and Georgia southern pine.

"It's a monster job," said Mike Thomas of Leathers and Associates, the Ithaca, N.Y., company that designed the playground. "It's a special job, though.

"We felt particularly challenged because of where it is, beside this beautiful carousel. We're doing our best to live up to the standard that's been set here."

Designed in large part by Missoula's schoolchildren, the enormous playground will include a "tot lot" for the wee ones, a 39-foot-high dragon-faced maze and slide; swings and more as well as paintings and mosaics created by area kids.

If all goes well, Thomas said, the playground should be up and ready for use by the end of the day on Sunday - as long as the stream of volunteers remains steady at 125 or so per shift. The project especially needs workers for evening shifts - 5:30 p.m. to dark - and weekends, volunteer coordinator Jerry Diettert said. Meals and child care are provided at the site.

Among those working Tuesday were carpenters and others sent by local construction companies. Yellow-hatted members of the Kicking Horse Job Corps. And students, including those Frenchtown High youths who, well into their teens, are beyond the age for swings and slides.

Or, maybe not.

"We're never going to be too old to play in a playground," Emily Skeels said.

The girls around her laughed and nodded, and someone chimed in: "Especially one this cool."

Web cam

To see the building of Dragon Hollow as it happens go to www.missoulian.com and click on Dragon Hollow.

Reporter Sherry Jones can be reached at 523-5299 or at sjones@missoulian.com.

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