The newly built Idyllwild Community Playground is open to all and available for use by the entire community. Last week, three Idyllwild Community Recreation Council directors met and issued the following statement: “The Idyllwild Community Playground was built by the members of this community to create a safe gathering place where people of all ages will benefit. This will also be a public access playground that all people are welcome to enjoy and allow them to promote a healthy, active lifestyle outdoors all year round.”
The need for stating a policy arose after Town Hall officials posted a statement on Facebook stating they felt unwelcome at the site and would no longer take the Town Hall kids there. After much discussion of Town Hall’s decision on social media sites, ICRC directors met, formulated the explicit policy and approved it.
The confusion began immediately after completion of the playground. Town Hall summer camp counselors took local children to the new playground and several incidents occurred that resulted in Town Hall management’s decision to stop using the playground. On Monday, June 18, the day after it was dedicated, Town Hall summer counselors reported several exchanges that left them feeling uncomfortable.
ICRC directors Claudia Posey and Dawn Sonnier confirmed that Sonnier approached the counselors and questioned why no one from Town Hall had come to help build the playground. ICRC directors said they did not suggest Town Hall counselors could not bring their summer campers to the playground. Town Hall counselors confirmed that. But county recreation counselor Destiny Walton said the questioning made her and the other three staffers there that day feel both uncomfortable and unwelcome. Walton said questions were also raised about provisions for Town Hall campers’ trash.
The next day, Town Hall campers and counselors returned, this time bringing their own trash bags. According to counselor Christina Martinez there was another incident involving a young boy who was not part of the Town Hall group for which Town Hall was later blamed. Martinez said she walked the boy, who had had a bathroom accident on a playground slide, over to his mother.
Based on these incidents and others including a phone call from a local woman who complained about Town Hall campers leaving trash and a visit from a local man who claimed to speak on behalf of ICRC blaming Town Hall for the bathroom incident, Town Hall management decided to stop using the playground. Recreation Manager Amy Righetti noted, in posting the decision on Town Hall’s Facebook page, that many parents of Town Hall campers participated in the playground build.
In an email to the Town Crier, Posey addressed the growing tension, “I cannot give you any answers as to Dawn’s exact quote for the record but I can say that I was there that day, she did approach MARS [county recreation] staff and mention that it was a disappointment that Town Hall staff had not been part of the build. It probably came out more harshly than it was intended but never a threat or meant to stop them [Town Hall kids] from coming back. As far as the trash goes, I can honestly say that because it was the first day the park was open, we hadn’t thought about trash yet and when we saw the MARS kids with their lunches, all of us who where there began discussing trash cans and trash bags.”
Posey noted, “Fortunately the playground is built and it is ICRC’s intention to make sure that the community understands that no group or individual has the right to exclude any other group or individual from joining in the play.”
Sonnier said ICRC is still working on issues involving playground maintenance and trash pickup, including providing appropriate bins for recycling. She said that ICRC, at its August meeting, would draft schedules and specifics of playground maintenance and that between 10 to 15 thousand dollars will be set aside from money raised for the playground build to fund maintenance.
Sonnier recently wrote to 3rd District Supervisor Jeff Stone about these issues, and stated she felt it was unprofessional for Town Hall’s staff to discuss its decision on its Facebook page. Further, ICRC had invited Town Hall staff to a meeting to clear the air, but Town Hall staff did not attend the meeting. Stone wrote to Sonnier, “Because public money was used to fund the construction of this nice playground, it must be available for the entire public to use.” Stone provided approximately $11,000 to fund the Conditional Use Permit.
ICRC currently owns both the site on which the playground is built and the playground. The private land donor, Dave Butterfield, holds a reversionary interest.