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Advocacy group is not playing around

Defend Adventure Playground is aiming to keep Irvine playground a fun but safe place to play.

January 01, 2011|By Joanna Clay, joanna.clay@latimes.com
  • The castle fort at Irvine Adventure Playground.
The castle fort at Irvine Adventure Playground. (Daily Pilot )

At 22, Jonathan Gerrard can remember the rush he got as a boy playing at Irvine's Adventure Playground.

Gerrard grew up to work there as an employee but was laid off in November. He's part of an advocacy group, Defend Adventure Playground, which has been trying to save the playground from being demolished by the city and lobbying city officials to reach a compromise that would preserve the playground's adventurous feel.

"Growing up in Adventure Playground, there was a lot of stuff you could do that was dangerous, you really got a sense of thrill and of life," Gerrard said. "You can't put foam around every aspect of your kid's life. There's kids that grow up playing Xbox and that's safe. That's not a really creative, fulfilling life."

The city has now agreed to turn away the bulldozers from the playground in University Community Park on Beech Tree Lane that is a popular recreational site to many families.

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Built in 1977, Adventure Playground is one of three such parks remaining in the United States. The other two are in Huntington Beach and Berkeley.

Adventure playgrounds started in Europe and were designed for kids to learn risk-taking, imagination and independence. There aren't any plastic castles or any fake grass. Want to build a fort? Here are the tools and the wood to build it. Want to get wet? Ride that tire down the river.

Kids and volunteers build almost every structure, from bridges to houses. When a structure gets old, they tear it down and build a new one.

Hammers, nails and the possibility of a splinter are all around. Basically, it's a liability nightmare, especially in this economic climate, said Alex Hillenbrand, another ex-employee of the park and fellow member of Defend Adventure Playground. However, for Hillenbrand, the experience is well worth the risk.

"We're really at a point in our society where we want to make everything safe but we're losing our ability to take risks and experience…adventure," he said.

In 2008, Irvine closed Adventure Playground to start construction work on University Community Park. Hillenbrand thought the closure might be temporary and that he'd get his job back. Then two years went by.

This fall, Hillenbrand was talking to a coworker and got surprising news.

"He said 'Hey, look they're going to bulldoze this thing,'" he said. "We started making calls [to the city] and showing up to the park."

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