The playground that kicked off a new generation of community improvement and partnership in Hernando, Conger Park playground, is again in need of a loving touch.
“The wooden playgrounds were built to last 15-20 years,” said Justin Fowler of Leathers & Associates, one of the nation’s premiere playground designers. “This one is 18 years old. While it’s a testament to the city that it still looks as good as it does, it’s definitely showing wear and tear and will become unsafe at some point.”
“We’re excited about the possibility that this offers to Hernando residents and to the surrounding community,” said Hernando Mayor Tom Ferguson about efforts to upgrade Conger Park. “It’s a much-needed upgrade. The first generation of volunteers now have grandchildren who are playing at the same park. We will need all the help and support the community can offer to make this a place where our children and grandchildren can play for years to come.”
Leathers & Associates built the playground at Conger Park in 2001. The effort was paid for through donations from families, charitable drives in the schools, and a generous matching grant from Maddox Foundation. Best of all, the design was based on input from a group of children throughout the city and surrounding community. The idea was formed around Hernando’s historic connection to the Spanish conquistador, Hernando DeSoto, and included elements designed to look like the Spanish galleon ships.
“One great thing about it was that everyone felt like they had a part in building the park, and because of that, they felt a duty to protect it and help maintain it. There was a great sense of pride among everyone who participated,” said Hernando Alderman Mike McLendon, who worked on the original build with his wife, Vickey, and two young sons two decades ago; and is now championing the rebuild at the city alongside Mayor Ferguson.
Fowler presented plans to refurbish the park and bring together a new group of volunteers at a meeting at City Hall on July 25.
“I gotta tell you, I have seen some real miracles happen during these builds in terms of building bridges and healing wounds in the community,” Fowler said. “This can be a game changer for any town. People who haven’t spoken to each other in years end up on the same team sometimes during a build. It’s truly a beautiful thing to see them come together by the end of the build. I get choked up every time I think of it.”
Leathers & Associates has been building playgrounds all over the world since 1971. Fowler has traveled to 33 U.S states and four countries on builds with the company, and is bringing his expertise back to Hernando for the four-day build the week of October 24.
In the meantime, several groups have stepped up to build monetary support and muscle on site during the four-day build: the Krewe of Hernando, Maddox Foundation, City of Hernando and Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi.
“Conger Park has the best playground in the county, made possible by the Maddox Foundation and residents of the city,” said Derick Biglane, Krewe of Hernando President. “The playground was painstakingly put together 18 years ago by many wonderful volunteers who allowed a generation of Hernando children a place that they could look forward to going to in their hometown, and enlighten their imagination through play. We are asking people today to help with their dollars and their time to renovate the playground for the next generation of Hernando children to experience the same.”
Dewayne Williams was an advocate for places and spaces to play that promote unity long before he took on the role of Parks Director with the city, and has a unique understanding of the playground’s effect on the city’s residents.
“Conger Park has been a gathering place for the citizens of Hernando and surrounding areas for many years,” Williams said. “I am thankful that the Maddox Foundation, citizens and others who care about places for children to play, are willing to give of their time, talents and money. This project will not only refresh a great playground but will be an opportunity to add pieces and features that will make the playground accessible and fun for kids of all kinds of abilities.”
Volunteers can help during the build with everything from children’s activities on site, to swinging a hammer or toting tools, or for those who can’t be present physically, making a donation.
“We are really excited for kids and families to honor loved ones by purchasing pickets engraved with their names,” Community Foundation President Tom Pittman said. “Folks can purchase fence pickets engraved with the name of their choice for $50, bricks in the sidewalk or around the border engraved with a message for $100, or even have a ‘storefront’ built inside that looks like their place of business. It’s a beautiful way to keep a memory alive or honor someone that can see it today.”
Furthermore, every single dollar will have the impact of two, thanks to a new pledge from Maddox Foundation.
“The Maddox Foundation will match dollar-for-dollar every dollar that is raised by the community up to $250,000 for the playground Project before Oct. 27,” said Robin Grindstaff Hurdle, Maddox Foundation President. “Any funds raised over the amount necessary to complete this project will be used for the future care and improvement of this playground. We’re excited to make another signature investment into this important community asset.”
Oct. 24-27 are the dates set for an on-site build. Churches, civic groups, fraternities, sororities, families—All are welcome.
For more information or to volunteer, contact Biglane at 901-517-5132, Brenda Smith at 662-449-5002 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or the Maddox Foundation at 662-449-3699.