PINE BUSH – You would be forgiven if for an instant last week you thought medieval marauders had set upon the wooden castle beneath the tall trees off of Red Mills Road, men-at-arms bent on sacking the towered playground where children ruled for nearly 30 years.
But no battering rams or catapults or dragons were at hand, nor gallant archers to repel the attack. A Crawford Parks and Grounds crew with a miniature excavator was at work and, as troubadours will sing someday, the ramparts did not hold.
The town’s beloved playground put together by 4-H’ers and other volunteers in the late 1990s is being demolished. Two of the crew members, Jack Shurter and Zack Sibley, now both 22, remember playing on the castle themselves. The young men grew up in Shawangunk but said there was nothing else like Crawford’s castle anywhere around. Their job was a little sad they said, but Shurter especially was looking forward the replacement. "It’s good to have new," he said. It will be safer and accessible to everybody.
Crawford Town Park, also known as Tessi Chessari Memorial Park, has lighted baseball diamonds, basketball courts, soccer fields and a walking track on its expansive grounds. But everybody knows it as The Castle.
"Oh, no, you’re tearing down the castle," was the response, Shurter said, when the town called Taylor’s to see about getting rid of the lumber.
Taylor-Montgomery LLC will probably haul the remains to a landfill, said Jennifer Parr, who works for Taylor, a big recycling outfit in Orange County. The wood has been treated so it can’t be ground up for mulch, she said. Parr was 20 years old when she helped some friends who belonged a 4-H club put up the castle 27 years ago. "It proves you’re not kid anymore," she said when asked about how it felt when she learned the castle was to be replaced. Parr never played on the ramps and ropes, slides and stairways, towers and secret passageways, but her kids did. "It’s kind of sad to see it go," she said.
The castle was a popular playground design; various examples abound across the country. Many have reached the end of their useful lives, ravaged by weather and rambunctious kids and now not up to modern safety standards. In some places, Evanston, Illinois, for one, where public outcry eventually led to the restoration and updating of its wooden park, people were unwilling to let go of the character it brought to the neighborhood. But such outcomes are expensive. In Evanston the price hit nearly a half-million dollars.
Restoring Castle Park wasn’t really an option for Crawford, Supervisor Charles Carnes said. The wood was rotting and splintering in places and required a lot of maintenance. Also, two years ago the town’s insurance company pressured the town to make improvements.
The new playground will have towers and slides and swings, be handicapped accessible and rise above a rubber base. It will be made of steel and plastic and meet safety requirements. GameTime, which offered the town a sizable grant to offset the cost of the project, will supply the equipment and see that it’s assembled. No volunteers this time around. The town, which allocated $158,000 for the playground, expects it to be ready for a new crop of kids this spring. It won’t look like the old castle, but who knows what kids will imagine as they play. Could be new dragons will chase them just the same.