Compo Beach Playground Rebuild Seeks Volunteers

It’s hard to believe, but the Compo Beach playground was almost not built.

When the plan was proposed in 1988, some neighbors and others in town feared everything from a “ruined vista,” to a horde of out-of-towners, to our own teenagers hanging out there, drinking and doing drugs.


They sued to stop its construction. As soon as a court injunction was lifted, volunteers of all ages went to work.

The result was one of Westport’s biggest attractions. (For kids — not out-of-towners or frisky teens.)

Parents lead children through the Compo Beach playground.

About 20 years later, another community-wide effort gave it an update and facelift.

Now, another rebuild is on the (still unspoiled) horizon.

The Westport Rotary Club and Westport Young Woman’s League will lead the project. They partnered on the original construction, and the first rebuild too.

Longtime Rotary volunteer and local builder Rick Benson is spearheading the effort.

He helped build the original playground more than 3 decades ago. He still calls it one of the best experiences of his life.

He and his wife Totney were new to town. They met other families. His children also made friends during the construction. Some of those relationships remain today.

(Youngsters were involved in the playground from the start. They helped design it, with noted architect Robert Leathers, and worked at the site. The littlest ones organized boxes of screws.)

The Compo Beach playground is popular many months of the year.

Rotary has chosen Play By Design to help with the “new” playground. It will include modern structures and features, as well as upgrades like replacing damaged boards resolving unsafe and accessibility issues, and improving visibility.

Right now, Rotary is assembling a steering committee (non-Rotarians are welcome!). Areas include:

  • General coordinators (2)
  • Volunteers coordinators (2)
  • Fundraising
  • Public relations
  • Special needs
  • Donated materials
  • Purchased materials
  • Food coordinator
  • Childcare coordinator
  • Site coordinator
  • Crew leader
  • Art and special features
  • Children’s representative

Rotary is also looking for volunteers for 3- to 4-hour on the build day next spring. Children can help. There will also be childcare and other activities.

Click here to volunteer for the steering committee and/or build day. For more information, follow @compobeachplay on Instagram

An initial meeting is set for Saturday, September 9 (9 a.m., at the wooden pavilion by the Compo Beach playground).

(Like the Compo Beach playground, “06880” is all about community. Please click here to support our work. Thank you!)

Time for a facelift. (Photo/JD Dworkow)

15 responses to “Compo Beach Playground Rebuild Seeks Volunteers

  1. Amazing to think about the original uproar over building a children’s playground. I remember it well as this was a project spearheaded by the Child Care Council and I was president at that time. So I remember getting served with the suit papers when I was out on maternity leave after the birth of my youngest son, Tim. 35 years ago….time flies!

  2. I’ve played on for over 30 years. My boys have played on it since they were babies. My boys have also played in playgrounds all over Manhattan and Brooklyn and across Northeast New Jersey. Lots of playgrounds have many amazing features and spaces and individual components but I have encountered VERY few playgrounds that are as impressive in their entirety like the one on Compo with one notable exception: Van Saun county Park Playground —

    The thought that went into making this playground beautiful and fun and accessible for all fully abled and differently abled children is so obvious from its use of ramps and ladders and slides and wide walkways and paths and it’s inclusion of swings for children of all ages and abilities.

    I can’t sit on the organization board for the renovation but I encourage those who do to visit many many modern playgrounds to get ideas and I strongly encourage you to visit Van Saun County Park Playground.

  3. Elisabeth Keane

    If you find yourself in Bergen County, consider visiting beautiful Van Saun Park on Forest Avenue in Paramus. Their remarkable childrens play area is quite large but certainly could offer inspiration for our pocket Compo Beach childrens play area.

    • Hi Elisabeth,

      Thank you for the feedback! That is an impressive playground?

      Would you mind filling out a survey with your specific feedback of the current Compo Beach Playground? What do you like, dislike, think we need to add or change?

      Below is a link to the survey (it closes on 10/30/23):

      We also have an Instagram: @CompoBeachPlay

      (My name is R.B. Benson – Rick’s son – and I’m on the new playground steering committee. We would love to have your input!)

  4. Richard Johnson

    The history here would be good for some folks to remember when it comes to things like improving Parker Harding and Longshore (and nearly every other capital improvement project or other development that gets proposed in town).

    • John McCarthy

      Richard, Good projects and developments don’t appear fully formed out of thin air. They’re worked out through a process that involves people making decisions, people voicing their opinions, and people shaping the end-product. In government, that’s called democratic due process. And it is a feature of our system of governance, not a bug. As long as the process is open and transparent.

      We are seeing that happen with Parker Harding, where ordinary citizens saw something happening they didn’t like; they voiced their opinion. Those doing the planning listened and moved the project in a different direction based on the feedback they receikved. It’s still not perfect, but the plan is better than it was two months ago, IMHO. And as you like to say YMMV.

  5. Michelle Fracasso

    I am grateful to the people of vision who helped create Compo Beach Playground. There are so many forever memories of the hours spent swinging, climbing and sliding with my girls. What a gift of joy to the community.

  6. Melissa Augeri

    Happy to hear that there is energy around refreshing the playground! A true Westport treasure. As one of the families who was part of the rebuild and fundraising 20 years ago – wondering about the “pickets” that are there and if the new group has a plan to save those or discard them. Thanks

  7. Werner Liepolt

    Having worked on the original, i recommend volunteering especially to all the many new families with young children moving into Westport. Meet your neighbors, work on a great project, give a little and reap wondrous rewards.

  8. Bobbie Herman

    I had moved to Westport a couple of years prior to the construction. I was single, middle aged, and my sons were living in NYC. But I volunteered to help build the playground, and I never had so much fun!

    I met many people, and made some friends. I worked with two other women on a couple of swings — one made from a tire. I’m too old now to do any construction work, and I’m now living in Redding, but I wish the project great success!

    Incidentally, for those newcomers looking to meet people, I found the best way to do it is to volunteer.

  9. Serious question regarding the lawsuit 30 years ago: why do some people reflexively hate change? And assume the worst?

  10. Susan Siegelaub Katz

    So many great memories of building Playground 1 when my kids were little and soaping screws and then Playground 2 when they were grown but I had a wonderful time. One difference we all noticed between 1&2 was a real shortage of young families the second time around. I’m sure that Playground 3 will be a great project for all the families newly arrived in town. Don’t miss out!

  11. A tripod time-lapse camera was placed on top of the lifeguard station roof. It spent the week/ten days overlooking the original Compo Beach playground construction. Two of my friends and I hid a “Time-capsule” inside one of the hollowed out spaces above the slide as we worked. It included several items of the day and $10.00. (We figured if we were ever desperate for cash, all we would need was a screwdriver.) My guess is that our secret was never discovered, and that the items and money was lost when the old playground materials were tossed in the dumpster. A fun project indeed.

    A final thought here- Right after the original playground was completed, we lost a good friend, Pete Folsom. Pete was a regular basketball player at the beach. We requested that the Recreation Department allow us to install two cedar benches next to the basketball court. They were the very first memorial benches and they remain to this day.