If you’re a parent or grandparent in Harwich, there’s a reasonably good chance that you’ve got fond memories of time spent at the Castle in the Clouds. It was—we speak in the past tense because it may have been demolished by the time you read this—one of the most creatively designed playgrounds on the Lower Cape. It inspired children for 25 years, which means that some of the kids who played there now have kids of their own.
It’s a mistake to think of playgrounds as just an extra adornment in a public park, like benches and picnic tables. And at an elementary school, where today’s kids are pushed to follow rigorous, rigid curricula, playgrounds are a place for learning social skills and expressing creativity. It’s a place where children can put down their smartphones and just be kids.
The Castle in the Clouds, like the old Chatham Play-around on Depot Road, was special for a couple of reasons. Its design included lots of bridges, towers and hiding places, which were great for games of tag and hide-and-seek. But most importantly, it was the product of community volunteers who planned, purchased and built the structure. It was a direct, hands-on investment in the town’s youngsters, a gift to the next generations.
For safety’s sake, it was essential that the town and the Monomoy Schools closed the old playground and ordered its removal. In the months ahead, we’ll be hearing from a group of parents and citizens who’ve already begun raising funds for a new playground, and it’s important that we provide financial support for the project. Here’s why.
Though water protection is a close second, the single most important problem facing the Lower Cape in the decades ahead is social sustainability. Thankfully, the Cape remains a desirable place to live, but the cost of doing so outstrips the wages earned by many year-round workers like teachers, nurses, hospitality workers and tradespeople. Without them, life in our communities simply wouldn’t be possible. Some towns are wisely looking at creative ways to support year-round families with incentives that range from subsidized child care to tax breaks. What’s become clear is that a package of initiatives, rather than any single project, is needed to make our communities attractive and livable for young families.
Part of that package is a great playground. Though they’re much more expensive than they were 25 years ago, modern playgrounds are also safer and more accessible to youngsters with disabilities. And they still provide a place for creative play, family time and lots of laughs.
So when the time comes to support a new playground, let’s get our heads in the clouds.