Cool weather greeted a crowd of excited Kilgoreites Saturday at Harris Street Park, where the long-awaited Friendship Playground was finally opened after a years-long effort of fundraising and volunteer work.

Completed in early August, the accessible playground is specially-tailored so everyone can enjoy its equipment without regard for any medical, physical or mental limitations. Its development was spearheaded by Kilgore Chamber of Commerce’s E4 leadership participants in partnership with the City of Kilgore and the Special Abilities Family Fun Event (SAFFE) Day.

Kilgore Chamber of Commerce President CEO Jill McCartney welcomed the crowd and urged them to congratulate Kilgore Public Library Stacey Cole, who led the effort to design and raise funds for the playground.

“In 2017, members of our community were all in the E4 Leadership Class that was sponsored by the Chamber. To make a long story short, at the end of our leadership class, we had to choose a project. SAFFE Day presented this project to us. They really had a heart for it. Everyone in our group had a heart for it too and that’s what we decided to take on as our project,” Cole said.

Cole noted many community members wondered when the playground would finally be completed and she said the project left the E4 class with their work cut out for them.

“It was a huge undertaking and it did take 3 years to complete,” she said.

“Fundraising is not easy but we had a lot of generous donors. We had a lot of support from the city of Kilgore. Without the city, we would not have been able to bring this project to completion.”

Fundraising for the playground began in 2018, with the E4 class raising $50,000 for the project and City of Kilgore contributing an additional $75,000.

After rounds of applause for Cole, the E4 class and all the volunteers who worked on the playground, Mayor Ronnie Spradlin said the new amenity will help Kilgore provide fun and entertainment to all its residents. The city, he said, already boasts the largest swimming pool and skate park in the area for a town of its size, and the new playground will also help set the City of Stars apart in the East Texas region.

Cole said the opening of the playground took place on the date when the 2020 SAFFE Day event was originally scheduled. It, along with many other local events, was cancelled due to health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 virus.

SAFFE Day Ambassadors for 2020-2021 Karabeth Chanler and Kelli Kruse lifted an oversized pair of scissors to cut a large red ribbon, officially opening the playground to the public. Excited kids and parents hurried to try out the new swings and slides while city officials, locals and members of Kilgore Fire Department and Kilgore Police Department chatted and enjoyed snow-cones from Charlie’s Sno-balls.

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