Since about 2001, youngsters coming to Hernando’s Conger Park to swing and slide and have a lot of fun have been greeted by a welcoming arch decorated by children of another generation. Some of the playground equipment also had artistic creations the kids were able to see and savor while getting ready to take their turn on the slide and such.

But, as with most everything, time takes it toll and what was once bright bits of wooden tiles depicting the heart of a child soon started to fade and dull.

The Hernando Parks and Recreation Department teamed up with the DeSoto Arts Council and the Hernando Optimist Club to accentuate the tiles, put a fresh coat of paint on them and let a new generation express their hearts for youngsters today and tomorrow to come and enjoy.

Dolly Brechin, Parks Program Director for the Hernando Parks and Recreation Department, said what was new in 2001 has been weathered to the point of needing to be replaced.

“The artwork had been there for 17 years,” Brechin explained. “When we went to replace it, it was falling apart and you couldn’t really see the paint, so we wanted to spruce it up, make it look nice. Some of the children that worked on this artwork, their parents worked on the previous artwork.”

When determining who would provide the expertise in refreshing the playground tiles, the City of Hernando went to the DeSoto Arts Council and then-executive director Margaret Yates for that help and advice.

“Every Tuesday afternoon we went over and painted with the kids,” Yates said. “Dolly had advertised it and we had like 12 kids here every Tuesday for about six weeks. They got to paint whatever they wanted and if they wanted some help, we would help them.”

Materials for the Conger’s Crossing upgrade came through the Hernando Optimist Club, said Brechin.

“The Hernando Optimist Club gave us the money to sponsor all of the lumber and the paint,” Brechin said. “The DeSoto Arts Council provided some instruction on painting, getting the kids organized along with the volunteers.”

Jack Casey with the Optimist Club believed the project will have a lasting value beyond just putting paint on a brush.

“This art project gave our kids a chance to express their creativity and exercise their minds,” Casey said. “Using the mind and body creates a balanced individual. This makes for great leaders who have an appreciation for the arts and will be great assets in the community.”

The children who did the painting were part of free art classes provided at the Gale Center by Yates and the Arts Council.

“DeSoto Arts Council and its volunteers were honored to be a part of the making of the new art found in Conger Park,” Yates said. “We loved working with the children who participated and are delighted with the outcome. The playground is for the children and the art is certainly representative of the life and enthusiasm of Hernando’s youth.”

Yates said about 12 youngsters took part in the classes and the Conger Park project.

Brechin pointed out that some of the youngsters who painted the new art were actually children of parents who were the original artists on the initial project, setting a new family tradition.

“It’s great to give them the feel of helping the community,” said Yates. “They can come out here for years and show their friends and, hopefully, it will last long enough for them to show their kids.”

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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