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New Tot Lot Opens in McLean

A new tot lot opened with a ribbon-cutting at McLean Central Park on Nov. 2, as toddlers and small children, for whom it was designed, tumbled forth to try out every piece of equipment.

The tot lot’s train theme was inspired by the trolley that once carried visitors from Washington to Great Falls National Park along what is now Old Dominion Drive, said Bari Levingston, chairman of the Friends of McLean Central Park (FMCP).

McLean was named for John McLean, the publisher of The Washington Post and founder of the railroad.

As the playground was dedicated, several voices read this verse as written by Levingston:

“All aboard! Come ride the train

In the sunshine or the rain

To the depot or for a drive.

Let your imagination decide.”

Students from Spring Hill Elementary School sang “God Bless America,” and waved flags to celebrate the playground opening under a bright fall sky on Saturday.

Dranesville District School Board representative Jane Strauss joined with Levingston.

“We have a playground in McLean, and there’s no creeps to scare us,” said Ann Goettner, who raised money to pay for the benches that encircle the play equipment. She referred to a delay in opening the playground that was caused by the recent sniper attacks in the metropolitan area.

Goettner has children ages 7, 5 and 3, and a small, part-time jewelry business that permits her to make her own hours.

“I was going to take my boys [to the park] tomorrow,” she said.

“It is perfect for the 3-year-old, and the 7-year-old enjoyed pushing [the toddlers] in the swings,” she said.

Goettner raised about $6,000 for the benches where parents, nannies, caregivers and friends can watch the children play.

“It was just a letter to my girlfriends,” she said. “I said, ‘Hey, girlfriends, I have a great cause that needs our help. No more driving to Great Falls or Arlington for a great tot lot,’” she said.

The benches will permit the camaraderie that mothers miss when they are home with small children, she said.

“Then we moms can get a bit of a respite while the children play,” she said.

Dranesville supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn of Great Falls donated a picnic table with a built-in checkerboard on top.

As a child, Mendelsohn said, he remembers visiting a neighborhood playground with his father. There were always older men there, playing checkers, he said.

With the tot lot and new gazebo, the complex of attractions at McLean Central Park has something to interest just about everyone.

Bill Byrnes, a member of the board of directors of the McLean Citizens Foundation, said he liked being able to see the playground from Route 123/Dolley Madison Boulevard.

“It makes [McLean Central Park] appear more hospitable, and friendlier to people,” he said, predicting the park would be a draw “For people who have never discovered the other things on Ingleside [Avenue],” such as the McLean Community Center with its theater, art gallery, classrooms and meeting rooms, photo exhibits and tennis courts.

Dolley Madison Library lies between the Community Theater and the new playground and gazebo.

Alice Starr, whose idea it was to form a “friends” group to improve the park, has children who are in high school and college but says she’ll look forward to bringing grandchildren to the park someday.

Pam Runholt of Leesburg, who grew up in McLean on a street that adjoins the park, said she remembers coming there to play hide-and-seek and ride bikes. She remembers the fountain, which was no longer in use and was replaced by the playground.

Her parents, Ronald and Lenora Evers, still live on Earnestine and visited the new tot lot with Runholt; her husband, Mark; and their daughter, Cora.

The McLean Citizens Foundation (MCF) contributed two matching grants, one for $35,000 for the gazebo and a second for $15,000 for the tot lot, to help the Friends of Central Park reach their funding goals.

The MCF also contributed $10,000 to the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) to pay for landscaping.

FCPA contributed funding for the new park through the 1998 park bond referendum.

The 38-foot gazebo was completed in July at a cost of about $131,000 from several sources, including FMCP, FCPA and the MCF.

The cost of the tot lot was also shared, with FCPS providing surveying, site work, sidewalks and a handicapped-accessible picnic table. FCPA also installed benches and tables and coordinated the project.