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Fun New Tot Lot Ready for Kids in McLean Central Park

WHAT: Opening Celebration,

Tot lot at McLean Central Park.

WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 2, 2-4 p.m.

RAIN DATE: Saturday, Nov. 9, 3-5 p.m.

Lack of funding. Intramural struggles among competing groups and visions. Rain. Sniper. More rain.

None has quashed the enthusiasm of McLean’s “Play Lady,” who has more recently become known as “Playground Woman.”

Driven by a 2-year-old toddler who’s mastered the lexicon of his age group, “No!”, and the social schedule of her sunny 6-year-old daughter, Bari Levingston is a typical young mother moving through her days at warp speed.

After a relatively brief tenure as a newcomer in McLean, Levingston joined a playground project at Spring Hill Recreation Center, that had been initiated by Kris Caplin.

When that was done, she was talking with Donna Hogan in Dranesville superintendent Stuart Mendelsohn’s (R) office about what she would do next. “I let her know I was interested in doing more,” said Levingston.

Hogan introduced Levingston to Alice Starr, vice president of West Group in McLean and a former president of the McLean Chamber of Commerce and the McLean Project for the Arts.

Starr suggested forming the “Friends of McLean Central Park” to raise money to improve the lovely, but little-used, expanse of green space at Dolley Madison Boulevard and Old Dominion Drive, one of McLean’s major intersections.

McLean Central Park “has been like ‘Sleeping Beauty’ for so long,” Levingston said. “Now, she’s kind of waking up.

“She had on her homespun country dress. Now she has her Sunday-go-to-meeting dress.”

After meeting Starr, Levingston said, she initially backed off. Starr was an important person with contacts all over McLean, while Levingston was a newcomer of brief duration who had only moved to McLean from Atlanta in 1997.

But she is a newcomer who loves playgrounds and whose excitement over them is infectious. She gets even more excited about seeing other children playing on them than her own, if that is possible.

So when her phone rang and Alice Starr asked her to be the point person for the new park with its gazebo and playground, Levingston accepted.

“ALICE IS VERY PERSUASIVE,” she said. “By the end of the conversation, I was saying yes to things I didn’t think I wanted to say yes to.”

Levingston led the effort to meet two challenge grants from the McLean Citizens Association, the first for $35,000 for the gazebo, and another for $15,000 for the playground.

The Fairfax County Park Authority also put up two $10,000 Mastenbrook matching grants, one for the gazebo, which was dedicated last summer, and one for the playground, to be dedicated Nov. 2.

OC Builders, B&W Excavating, Barr Concrete, Butz-Wilbern and West Group each donated $10,000 or more as in-kind services or grants, Levingston said.

Dwight Schar of NV Homes donated removal of a concrete structure that once was a fountain, where the playground now stands, and also for clearing underbrush and trimming treetops. “You might think I’m crazy, but the trees looked so proud” after they were trimmed, Levingston said.

Martha Schar donated the climbing structure that triggered a number of other donations, Levingston said.

Larry and Debra Silver of McLean donated a piece of equipment for the playground’s train, and the McLean Women’s Club gave two riding horses. Steve and Marti Friedman donated another horse.

Individuals also made donations, some of them dedicated to particular pieces of playground equipment.

Early in the process, an anonymous donor sent a check for $10,000 to help the project along. “It was my hope money,” said Levingston.

After she spoke to the New Dominion Women’s Club, one of its members volunteered to raise money for playground equipment. Ann Goettman’s letter campaign raised all the money needed for park benches, said Levingston.

Overall, the playground cost upward of $45,000, not counting donated in-kind services.

NOW THAT IT IS VIRTUALLY COMPLETE, “I can’t wait to ride by here every day and see kids playing,” Levingston said. “I really mean that.

“Look at how my two kids enjoy this park,” she said. “I can’t wait until everyone’s kids are playing here, too.”

The wait is almost over. The grand opening for the tot lot is scheduled from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 2.

It’s a “bring your own [rounded point] scissors” ribbon-cutting that will feature a moon bounce, face painting, trackless train rides, refreshments and entertainment.

The new playground has a train motif, with swings, monkey bars, climb-on horses and slides.

It has one picnic table adapted for wheelchairs for the disabled, and Dranesville District Supervisors Stuart Mendelsohn donated another table with a built-in checkerboard in hopes that older people will enjoy the squeals of the children in the adjacent playground.

On Monday, despite dripping skies, Levingston brought her children, Sidney and Jake, to check out the almost-finished tot lot.

Like the gazebo, which opened July 14, this opening is likely to go right down to the wire with last-minute touches being completed.

For Levingston, the completion of McLean Central Park is just the impetus she needs to find a place to make a new park.

And she has noticed Clemyjontri Park right down the road, where Dolley Madison Boulevard meets Georgetown Pike.

Clemyjontri needs a handicapped-accessible carousel, but as yet, no funding has been identified.

If approved, a bond referendum that will go before voters on Nov. 5 would produce $20 million for the Fairfax County Park Authority, with $5 million to be used for development.

The rest, $15 million, is needed to buy ever-scarcer land, say park developers.

The land for Clemyjontri was donated by McLean resident Adele Lebowitz, who stipulated that it be handicapped -accessible.

Friends of McLean Central Park will receive the Elly Doyle Award from the Fairfax County Park Authority on Nov. 22. They were named the Nonprofit Association of the Year by the McLean Chamber of Commerce.

Lebowitz is also a former recipient of the Elly Doyle Award.