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Let’s play

  • Photo courtesy Anaina Hou

    A community volunteer puts some finishing touches on the new playground at Anaina Hou Community Park in Kilauea.

  • Photo courtesy Anaina Hou

    Families enjoy the new playground at Anaina Hou Community Park in Kilauea.

Anaina Hou Community Park’s new playground is open for business and already popular with local families, according to organizers. And they’re waiting on just a few more details before commemorating the playground with a grand opening ceremony sometime in late January or early February.

With a maze of platforms and slides, a volcano-shaped rockwall, a castle in the middle and a replica of a double-hulled Hawaiian sailing canoe, the playground is themed around the concept of ahapuaa (mountain-to-ocean land areas). It also has sugar-plantation-era trains.

“It’s a big success,” said Frank Rothschild, on the Anaina Hou board of directors and chair of the Recreational Committee that’s heading up fundraising for the project. “It’s satisfying to me that every time I drive there to go to a meeting there’s lots of kids with parents in the playground.”

The concept surfaced years ago when the son of Hawaii Volcanic Beverages and husband and wife co-founders and longtime residents Jason and Channon Donovan was playing at a science-themed eco-playground in Florida while they were on vacation.

The Donovans’ son, Finn, was 5 years old at the time.

“We had so much fun it was hard to leave, so Finn and I decided we needed to build an eco-learning playground where we live on Kauai,” Jason Donovan said. “Huge mahalos to Joan and Bill Porter for accepting our proposal and for donating the land, initial funding, and wonderful heart and soul to make this happen for everyone who lives on or visits Kauai.”

After Donovan pitched the idea, though, it was time to fundraise. It took several years before the Recreational Committee was able to raise $650,000 for the playground’s construction.

It was built through a company called Leathers, which partners with “an army of volunteers” to build playgrounds, according to Rothschild.

That’s how the Kamalani Playground was built in Lydgate Park. But Anaina Hou wasn’t able to get the volunteer base they needed to knock out building their playground in the same way.

Because of that, they had to factor in hiring people to help with the building, and the price tag climbed another $75,000 — and that’s after the board went through and cut away “wish-list items” from the plans for the playground.

“We revised our budget with the idea that we’d have a volunteer week at the very beginning and get a huge amount of work done and then we’d finish with hired help,” Rothschild said.

Several volunteers did come out for that volunteer week in August 2018 at the beginning of the project, and they ran into roadblocks in the project immediately — quite literally, they ran into boulders.

“We had to dig 285 holes in the ground to hold the poles and all the features and the fence,” Rothschild said. “In at least 40 percent of those holes, they ran into boulders, and that really threw us back. Most of our volunteers were smashing rocks, trying to break it up to get the post in the ground.”

The playground is built almost entirely from recycled plastic and locally-sourced, non-toxic, natural building materials, and is touted as “earth friendly.”

Keiki and their families are playing in the tunnels and climbing on the volcano, searching the skies for navigational stars as they play on the voyaging canoe, and taking rides down the slides that are existing currently.

And in the next few weeks, organizers plan to finish up final details like adding three additional slides — those didn’t come with the original shipment of supplies — grading the road and establishing pathways to the hale overlooking the playground, and installing artwork along a wall that will be shaped to resemble the Kilauea Mountains.

On one side of the wall will be a ceramic mosaic of Hawaii’s colorful fish and corals, and on the other side of the wall will be a mosaic of Hawaii’s birds — all done in a partnership project with several Kauai artists.

Fundraising is still ongoing for the project, and Rosthchild said Anaina Hou had to take out a loan to be able to keep it on track.

“It’s an amazing thing, and we had lots of people that have donated money and in-kind donations, and then we had the super volunteers,” Rothschild said. “There were people who have spent a huge amount of time and helped and never charged us.”

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Jessica Else, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or jelse@thegardenisland.com.

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