MATAMORAS - A ribbon-cutting that drew local dignitaries also resulted in drenched children at Airport Park in Matamoras, Pa., Saturday, May 31.
After Pennsylvania state Sen. Lisa Baker, 20th District, cut the ribbon for the new Splashpad at Firefly Field playground, water spouted upward or outward from 12 features installed in nonslip textured concrete, and some onlookers could not resist on a warm day. Port Jervis girls Brianna Kranik, 11, and Paris Khan, 9, ran through the upsurges of cool water with their clothes on, and other children followed. Merely pushing one button begins six minutes of waterworks.
The Splashpad was part of the plan for Firefly Field seven years ago, but funding for it was still lacking when the playground opened in 2009. It was finally completed after Baker obtained a $500,000 grant through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. Half the grant paid for the Splashpad, while the other half went to the Center for Developmental Disabilities in Milford, Pa. The Splashpad, like the rest of the playground, is designed to allow children with special needs to play with others.
Ronnie Biondo, who initiated plans for the park, pointed out a swing set with a row of four swings, one molded in the form of a chair. Three years ago, she said, she saw a mother cry as she pushed her 10-year-old son in the chair, grateful that he could finally swing alongside his best friend, despite disabilities. The boy would have the opportunity for only those three years, because he recently died from his progressive illness, Biondo said.
The plan began in her mind at a stoplight in Connecticut.
“My daughter said, ‘Look to the left. That’s a playground for children of all abilities.’”
What she saw, she thought Matamoras should have.
“I talked to Joe, and he said, ‘Let’s build,’” she said.
Her friend, designer Scott Eck, who was also at the ribbon-cutting, remembers getting a call from her, inviting him to discuss the plan at dinner. He has designed 150 projects in Pike County, but this was his first playground. Now he and the Biondos are working on building two more – one in Little Rock, Ark., and one in Naples, Fla., where the Biondos spend part of the year.
“We looked at catalogs and websites and priced it out,” he said. “Once Matamoras Borough donated land, we moved forward aggressively.”
In addition to funding from the Ingeborg Biondo Foundation, whose focus is on funding for children with special needs, community fundraisers also helped build the park. People contributed money for various kinds of apparatus, and in those areas they have commemorative plaques.
Joe Biondo Jr., who was also at the event, has a history in the park going back to his own boyhood growing up in Matamoras, when Firefly Field was empty. Now he too has a plaque there. He pointed out the Explorer’s Play Structure dedicated to his son Lorenzo, who was born prematurely six years ago and died at six weeks old, never having left the hospital.
Plaques are surrounded by fanciful structures in bright colors, full of curves and twists rather than sharp edges and corners. The structures also have multiple levels that children in wheelchairs rarely experience, noted Ronnie Biondo. To get those levels, boulders had to be moved, she said.
Some of those displaced boulders now stand upright, engraved with lines from the award-winning children’s book “Fireflies and Shooting Stars,” about a young firefly’s search for his missing light. The book was written by Milford realtor Ed Raarup, and illustrated by Lindsay D. Nery. Seven years ago, a song Raarup’s friend Michael Rice sang at Muir House, about fireflies and shooting stars, inspired the theme.
“The playground project was just being considered, and the song rang a bell,” said Raarup. “It made sense to write a children’s book with music for the park.”
So the park is named for the book, which comes with a CD of Raarup’s firefly songs. And Nery painted the murals that decorate the park.
These days, children line up in front of the park before opening time.
“When I spent time here, it was just a big field with an air strip and a couple of pavilions,” said Joe Biondo Jr. “It wasn’t bad, but seeing what’s here now, I’m happy for Matamoras kids.”
[Courtesy Pocono Record]