Playing Around

Today, hordes of Westporters will descend on the Compo Beach playground.  In an annual ritual they will sand, shovel, screw in and otherwise secure one of the town’s most popular attractions for another season of fun.

Hard to believe the Compo playground was once the most controversial project in town.

Compo Beach playground

Exactly 20 years ago, the playground was a gleam in some Westporters’ eyes. Working with Robert Leathers — designer of 500 play areas around the country — they asked kids in town what they wanted, then organized hundreds of volunteers to make it all happen.

But wait!  True to Westport tradition, where the most minor matters become World War III, a group of anti-playground activists mobilized.

Too high! they said.  Too ugly!  Too ruinous of our precious vista!

Too much arsenic in the wood!  Too attractive to out-of-towners!  Too many teenagers will hang out there at night!

As the New York Times reported, 300 concerned citizens packed a Planning & Zoning meeting.  Little kids wore bright yellow T-shirts; grumpy adults sported blue stickers screaming “Not That Spot.”  The night erupted into dueling slide shows, scale models and polls.

An anti-playground lawyer, perhaps unwittingly alluding to Westport’s artist-colony past, asked: “Who ever heard of putting a Jackson Pollock next to a Renoir?”

The P&Z finally said yes.  Opponents filed 2 lawsuits.  The pro-playground people prevailed.  During a week-long frenzy of volunteerism, the project was completed.

None of the doomsday predictions came true.  No one’s vista was ruined; if anything, the scene of kids playing joyfully, nearly every day of the year, enhances the beach’s beauty.

Teenagers still hang out at South Beach, not on swing sets.  Out-of-towners flock here (out of season), sure, but more for the dog-run expanse than the playground.  No one has died from arsenic poisoning.

And, in one of the most delicious ironies, some of the most vociferous opponents are the first to show off the Compo Beach playground to out-of-town guests.

Or to mention it as a key attraction when trying to sell their homes.

(Today’s playground maintenance runs from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, click here.)

2 responses to “Playing Around

  1. When the Young Woman’s League, Parks and Recreation, PAL and the committee from 1989 decided to rebuild the playground 3 years ago there were no protests and no law suits. The “new” playground was built three years ago. The annual maintenance day is today. So pick up a pair of gloves and come to the playground this morning to help keep our new playground looking good.

  2. My favorite story during the amazing controversy about the original playground was that a woman who lived on Owenoke sent a letter to the editor complaining that her view of the Sound would be forever ruined by the playground. Of course, she didn’t have a view of the Sound that would be obstructed with the playground.

    All of us who worked on the original playground will never forget how wonderful the experience was and that we were renewing the old New England tradition of the “barn raising.”

    For those of you that weren’t part of this wonderful community then, all of the children were asked to participate in this noble effort. I remember my then 3 year son being taught to cover screws with soap to make it easier for them to go into the treated wood. The building of the playground is one of so may Westport memories I will always cherish.