And it’s a dragon’s lair at that, or Dragon Hollow, to be exact. Set in Caras Park, this is where young and old alike come to play in Missoula, Mont. Many years ago this location was actually the riverbed of the Clark Fork River. But as time changes most everything else, the river was basically moved off to the side, and now this beautiful park complete with its own fully-working Carousel of hand-carved horses resides next to the river with a gorgeous view for all to enjoy. The carousel had opened in 1995, and it was later decided that the community needed play area to complete this gathering place. Robert Leathers of Leathers and Associates, Inc., visited Missoula in 2000 and talked with the children to find out what they would like have in the playground. Dragons seemed to be the most popular answer, and then it evolved into a three-headed dragon with some very fun components including a slide for the dragon’s tongue from each head component.
After the design was settled on, the project came to being through the efforts of community build, and one of the really neat things about this is that efforts are still made by many of the same people who helped build this play space. Missoula seems to be a model community for the community build concept. Fundraising efforts were supported by many and included things such as purchase of personalized slats that surround the play area.
Tiles to be custom decorated and personalized were sold for $15 each and then displayed on a special wall just inside the entrance. Many community businesses donated money and are listed on the granite wall of fame inside the play area as well. Different levels of sponsorship, along the dragon theme, of course, were available including Spellbinding Sorcerers, Dragon Dreamers, Wonderful Wizards and Magic Makers.
The community has really pitched in to help make this playground a reality. Volunteers were bused from the local mall as parking couldn’t accommodate so many people at once during each shift.
It seems you would be hard-pressed to find a business or individual in this community who didn’t help out monetarily or in-kind. One of the most beautiful things about this build though is the tireless efforts of the volunteers. Theresa Cox, Director of the Carousel notes “Some of the volunteers would come for one shift and not go home. They would stay for the next shift or maybe longer.”
This community seems to really go all out to help when a project is under weigh. The Home Depot was a major contributor with a $60,000 donation, and many local restaurants stepped up to feed volunteers. Retired teachers kept the crew in cookies as well. There are far too many volunteers and donors to mention them all in this article, but what a great feeling to know that you have given of yourself to provide a safe and extremely fun place for members of all ages of your community to play. They have to feel good about this, and their efforts will not soon be forgotten by those who enjoy Dragon Hollow.
Community members of all ages have shown their support and excitement for the project. At the entrance of Dragon Hollow, the first feature to catch your eye might be the very nicely done mosaic created, no doubt with love, by area sixth graders. It was completed in 2001, and is actually one of three community playground builds a city of roughly 50,000 people has supported in very recent years. Support hasn’t stopped after the build though. Each year, these wood playgrounds need to be maintained and stained, and the volunteers still come out to help. May 20, 2006, was the most recent cleanup and maintenance day, and it has always been a well-supported event. Not only did the community build the playground, but the playground seems to have built the sense of community.