Playtime during Trade Day, August 11, 2022. Photo by Kristin Yarbrough
Playtime during Trade Day, August 11, 2022.

Pine Mountain playground announcement

By Kristin Yarbrough. Published in the Blount Countian on August 10, 2022.

Pine Mountain Community Center has a new playground. Equipment was installed in late July after a two year collaboration between the PMCC board, Amy Rhudy, Cawaco, Commissioner Nick Washburn, and many PMCC volunteers and contributors.

"We don't have a city park up here," said Gwen Brady, PMCC secretary, of the board's long-time intention to build a playground. "There were so many children who needed a place to go."

This goal reached Amy Rhudy, curator at Oneonta's Blount County Memorial Museum, who applied for a grant from Cawaco Resource Conservation & Development. "I heard through the grapevine that they wanted playground equipment," Rhudy said, "and I approached Terry about it." Rhudy knew PMCC board president Terry Hallmark from previous collaborations, and former president Lester Hallman through her coordination of Blount County Lone Eagle Honor Flight, a program that sent Hallman and other local veterans on an expense-paid tour of Washington, D.C.

Cawaco RC&D, the 501(c)(3) organization that awarded the grant, supports educational and community development projects in Central Alabama. The organization distributes funding from the state to projects that do "the greatest good that they can, the biggest bang for the buck," said Patti Pennington, grants administrator at Cawaco RC&D. "We try to make sure the funds are put on the ground in local communities. Pine Mountain is a small community; they don't have a lot of support. We just wanted to support them as much as we could."

The grant supplied $5,000 of the $15,000 cost of the playground equipment. At a board meeting in late 2021, the board members and community members present voted to spend the unanticipated $10,000 rather than relinquishing the grant. "It was a hard choice," said Hallman, who served for many years as PMCC president prior to Hallmark's election two years ago. "Finances have been a problem. Paying $10,000 for one piece has depleted our reserves, but we're trying to do things that will increase participation."

Brady shared Hallman's concern. "The playground has ended up being way more expensive," she said. "We're diverting funds to finish it, and I'm concerned that they really should be going to the building." The former Blount Highland schoolhouse, which was given to the community by Blount County in 1969, shows visible deterioration. Hallman pointed to the two chimneys and the men's bathroom floor as examples of deferred maintenance.

The $10,000 balance for the equipment was raised through PMCC's two annual fundraisers, December's smoked ham butt sales and June's bluegrass and BBQ event, which this year also raised $1,000 in a raffle organized by PMCC treasurer Kim Russell.

The playground is adjacent to the regulation baseball field, which is managed and used exclusively by Southeastern Rec Association, a nonprofit youth sports organization associated with the pre-kindergarten through 12th grade Southeastern School in Remlap. "The playground is [primarily] for the kids there during Southeastern games," said Brady. During two events at the Community Center's pavilion in the days following the playground's opening, children played nearby on the old cast iron swingset, a relic from Blount Highland's school days.

Blount County contributed excavation and site preparation. "I would really like to thank Nick Washburn and his District 4 crew for the groundwork that they helped us with," Hallmark said. "It would have cost us a lot of money, and we don't have the equipment." Hallman also acknowledged the fill dirt provided by the Wilson family, whose property shares a lot line with the community center.

Though the playground is now open for play, the project continues. The board is soliciting quotes to build a fence around the playground, out of respect for the neighbors, according to Brady and Hallman. "We've got two property owners [bordering the playground] and want to be good neighbors," said Hallman. "Even that's going to cost an arm and a leg," Brady said of the fence. "But once it goes in, we'll go back to trying to get the building worked on."

Through these challenges, board members praised and thanked project collaborators. "Amy is a gem for working with organizations," Hallman said of grant writer Rhudy. Brady expressed gratitude toward Cawaco RC&D. "We wanted a playground," Brady said, "and the grant we got was much appreciated."

After this article was published, Cawaco RC&D provided an additional $2,500 towards playground expenses. A fence was added in early September, with funding from an anonymous donor.