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Stagecoach Park ready to play

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By Stephen Knapp

If anything, the fact that many of those present at Stagecoach Park’s official howdy-do had come on other business made the event more satisfying.

“I didn’t know there was anything going on,” said Flint Dadian, a Hiwan Hills resident who’d brought his almost-2-year-old, Chloe, for a turn on the swing shift. “We come over here three or four times a week to play on the swings. It’s a great place for her to meet other kids.”

Kathleen Beard and 21-month-old Peyton didn’t wait for an engraved invitation to sample the park’s top-flight playground facilities, either.

“We were waiting for this all summer,” said Kathleen, who lives just a good stretch of the legs away off Lewis Ridge Road. “It’s a great, safe place to play. We’ve been coming over about every other day for the last month. Peyton really likes the swings, and that steering-wheel thing, for some reason.”

And yet, in the spirit of civic involvement, neither Chloe nor Peyton objected to a 6 o’clock intermission on Oct. 9 to watch deputy director Pat Callahan welcome the latest star in the Evergreen Park & Recreation District constellation. It didn’t hurt that Callahan shrewdly supplied sweet apple cider and spooky Halloween-wrapped popcorn balls to all comers.

“This has always been identified as a place that could be a beautiful park,” began Callahan, an emcee of the Ed Sullivan school, except more entertaining and flexible. Demonstrating the latter quality, he raised his arms with dramatic flourish. “This project really started 10 years ago, and today we have this.”

“This” is a full-size, multi-purpose playing field and three-quarter-scale ball diamond, both covered in a luxuriant carpet of thick sod, a first-class handicapped-accessible playground and a pleasantly meandering packed-earth trail connecting everything to ample parking. When the “Keep Off the New Grass” signs come down next week, Stagecoach Park will be a full-service, 11-acre leisure oasis in the heart of bustling central Evergreen. Of course, with the mean season coming down fast, the first league games will have to wait for spring.

“There are so many people who deserve thanks for making this happen, it would be really hard to name them all,” said Callahan, who made a creditable job of trying to name them all. Citizens 4 Parks, the local volunteer effort launched in 2005 to help pass Ballot Question 5B, which supplied $2 million for the park’s purchase and development; the El Pinal Homeowners Association, which provided essential advisory and practical support; EPRD boards past and present — many members of both were present on Tuesday; and the long and diligent efforts of the district’s staff, which helped shepherd the project through the county’s regulatory jungle gym.

Stagecoach Park is the second 5B project to be completed, finishing just behind the Marshdale playing fields and well ahead of the Evergreen Recreation Center remodel.

Included in Callahan’s commendations were Barb Converse and Bill Sperry, two of several El Pinal residents who strongly resisted the park as designed.

“They spent a lot of time helping us improve the shape of the park, and they were instrumental in helping us see how important it was to save as many trees as we could,” Callahan said. “We had to take out five trees, and we planted about 90. That kind of community input is exactly what we wanted, and this is a better park because of it.”

Also on hand at the ceremony were colorful members of a Frisbee football team aptly named “The Pirates,” or “Pirate House,” or something equally lawless. Ponytailed, dreadlocked, tattooed and bandana-ed, any one of the young fellows would have looked right at home on the Black Pearl, but they hadn’t come to plunder or despoil.

“Right after they laid the sod, I came down here and chased these guys out of the park,” explained Callahan. “They were really nice about it, and I think it’s important that they’re here now. The important thing is that they didn’t drive here, and they weren’t driven here. They walked here, and that’s what Stagecoach Park is — a neighborhood resource that kids and families can walk to.”

“We’re just looking forward to playing here,” said the crew’s not-particularly-scurvy spokesman. “It’s gonna be great.”

At 6 o’clock, a 2-foot-tall bundle of sugar and spice in a big pink bow named Olivia Gilchrist joined her mom on the stairs of a convenient playground slide. With a determined look and all the coordination a 3-year-old can muster, Olivia snipped her way through the official Stagecoach Park baptismal ribbon and into her own small place in Evergreen history.

“It was fun,” she said, which is the whole point of a park, after all. “I can cut with scissors.”