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RiverPlay just days away.

Byline: Edward Russo The Register-Guard

RIVERPLAY GRAND OPENING

Where: Skinner Butte Park, Eugene

When: Noon-4 p.m., Saturday

What: Celebration of playground opening, speeches, ribbon cutting, live music, food and games

Key players: Eugene Rotary Club, which led private fundraising effort and provided volunteer labor; Eugene property taxpayers, who financed 1998 parks bond measure; Eugene Parks and Open Space Division employees

Large donors: Meyer Memorial Trust; Eugene New Car Dealers Association; Kelley Family Foundation; Van Evera and Janet M. Bailey Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation; Wells Fargo Bank; Chambers Family Foundation; Eugene Water & Electric Board Education Fund; Jerry's Home Improvement Center; Valley River Center

Eleven-year-old Ben Mihulka of Springfield and his friends spied the tantalizing spires of the fanciful play structure in Eugene's Skinner Butte Park.

The children were eager to swarm over the 25-foot-tall climbing structure replica of Skinner Butte and the other features in the much-anticipated playground.

"I know it's called RiverPlay and it's supposed to be like all the things they have in Oregon and stuff," Mihulka said breathlessly. "There are trees on the big play structure, and it looks like a mountain, and there are cabins and stuff. And it's supposed to be a replica of what there is in Oregon."

Mihulka and his friends were in Skinner Butte Park on Monday on an outing organized by the Willamalane Park and Recreation District.

Eager as they were to swarm over the playground, they headed to another area because RiverPlay is not yet finished.

But their wait - and that of kids and parents throughout the Eugene-Springfield area - is about to end.

The RiverPlay Discovery Village, will open to the public later this week, most likely on Friday. A grand opening will take place Saturday.

The opening will culminate a three-year effort by volunteers and city officials and employees to create the first of two signature RiverPlay play- grounds.

"It's just amazing when each new piece of play equipment comes in," said Carrie Peterson, park development coordinator with the city.

The $1.2 million playground is a collaboration between the city and the Eugene Rotary Club, which embraced the project to celebrate its 100th year.

Rotary Club members helped raise more than $400,000 from local businesses and charitable organizations, and worked on the site. The city's 1998 parks bond measure contributed $780,000.

Discovery Village is designed to give children a place to play while learning about the area's natural history and early inhabitants.

The Skinner Butte replica, one of the largest play structures in the state, is the focal point . Topped with green spires to resemble Douglas firs on nearby Skinner Butte, the structure has basaltlike climbing columns ranging up to 13 feet high, and a 15-foot-tall slide.

Ray Robinson of Robinson Earthscapes in Deadwood fashioned the climbing columns out of concrete. He gave them a smooth finish with cracks for kids to get toe and hand holds.

At the "Ancient History Dig," children will burrow through up to 16 inches of sand to uncover brass "fossils" of arrowheads, ancient stone tools and a life-size ichthyosaur.

A raised, meandering 30-foot-long water feature representing the Willamette River will give kids plenty of ways to mix sand and water.

Discovery Village also highlights the role of the area's Native American inhabitants.

Robin Hostick, the city's principal landscape architect for the project, "really did his research," said Duane Strickland, project manager of 2G General Contractors of Eugene, which built the area.

"This whole play area was designed to bring a sense of community to kids so they know how Eugene started."

A dugout canoe, a child-sized replica of a summer dwelling and a kid-activated rain circle plaza signify the role of the Kalapuya tribe. A long house is to be built later, Strickland said.

The pioneer era is represented by a rocking stagecoach and replicas of a schoolhouse, store, jail and other early buildings. The structures line a corridor representing Willamette Street that leads between the Skinner Butte structure and a boulder-topped grassy knoll signifying Spencer Butte.

Workers are putting the finishing touches on the playground, situated on a 3-acre site close to the South Bank Trail. On Monday workers applied a rubber surface composed of shredded tires and glue around the "Ancient History Dig" and other areas.

Curious families often come up to the fence that surrounds the playground wanting to know when it will open, said Strickland.

"It seems like every time I come down here, there are people with kids wanting to come in and see it," he said.

Rotary Club members and other volunteers helped demolish the former playground that was on the site. Last fall, volunteers helped install the Skinner Butte climbing structure, and did landscaping work.

`They came in with a couple of hundred people and they helped to make (the installation of the play structure) easy,' Strickland said.

Residents also contributed to the fundraising by purchasing more than 1,000 inscribed bricks at $100 each that are laid in the playground's entryway.

Fundraising continues so other features can be added. Bricks can be bought during Saturday's grand opening.
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Title Annotation:Government; The new kids' area in Skinner Butte Park is set to open at the end of the week
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 4, 2006
Words:847
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