Shelter Island toddler’s playground bouncing back to life

JO ANN KIRKLAND PHOTO | Elizabeth Weslek, 3, giving the brand new slide at the Tot Lot a whirl Monday afternoon.

JO ANN KIRKLAND PHOTO | Elizabeth Weslek, 3, completing a full circuit of the brand new slide at the Tot Lot Monday afternoon.

Kids scrambling around a playground. Moms watching and occasionally calling out to some of the bolder boys to be careful. Pizza from the local restaurant. And a community pulling together to help the smallest among us have a safe and happy time on a sleepy summer afternoon.

The “Tot Lot,” the playground on School Street dedicated for small children, was back in action this week with a brand new slide, replacing one that was in such disrepair it had become dangerous. Besides the slide, more money was on the way to restore the park. And maybe most importantly, hope was in the air that the Tot Lot would be even better than before.

Vicki Weslek, keeping an eye on her youngest, Elizabeth, 3, who was resplendent in a ballerina’s tutu, remembered hearing of a hole in the previous slide and a child’s leg getting caught in it.

That, along with the generally beat-up, graffiti-scarred and dangerous state of the place was part of what kept the momentum that Ms. Weslek and her friend Kate Springer had been building since last spring to transform the Tot Lot.

Around lunchtime Monday there was a “slice and a slide” party at the playground to thank the Lions Club for pitching in $5,600 to purchase the new slide, which was seeing steady and enthusiastic action. The Lions Club will donate all proceeds of its annual Scallop Dinner in October to the Tot Lot, with all contributions tax deductible.

Bella Vita donated 10 boxes of pizza for the event, which some of the younger enthusiasts were enjoying with both hands. Several members of the Lions Club were present Monday enjoying the pizza and watching the kids at play, including president Frank Veccio and past president Ken Pysher. Town Attorney Laury Dowd was also on hand.

In addition, a state grant has come in for $13,750 that will also go to make the Tot Lot new again, and a fundraising campaign, spearheaded by Ms. Springer and Ms. Weslek, is shooting for a goal of $100,000.

One priority is to pave the park in poured rubber, Ms. Springer said, replacing the sand in the 11,000 square foot space. There are several reasons to have a rubberized surface, Ms. Springer said, including making the park safer, handicapped accessible and not having to worry about sand wearing down metal grates on the equipment.

It’s also just nicer, Ms. Weslek said, noting that the sand “is gritty and dirty” and kids immediately want to take their shoes off whenever they spot sand.

The playground was first built through a grass roots campaign kicked off by a group of mothers in 1996 on land owned by the Shelter Island School. It was paid for by the mothers who raised more than $50,000 because the other playground on school grounds was designed for older children and not safe for toddlers.
The town has done maintenance at the playground.

Ms. Springer didn’t think the goal of $100,000 was out of reach. About $23,000 has already been secured, which includes the state grant.

For more details on restoring the Tot Lot, visit facebook.com/totlotplayground. Donations can be sent to Shelter Island Lions Foundation, memo: “playground,” PO Box 760, Shelter Island, NY 11964.

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