When Rachel Crossett, 6, of Centreville's Pleasant Hill community died of cancer in July 2001, everyone who knew and loved her was devastated. Now there's a plan to renovate a park in her neighborhood and commemorate her memory by calling it Rachel's Park.
On the corner of Hidden Canyon Road and Riverland Run, it's known as Pleasant Hill Park and belongs to Fairfax County. But over the years, it's fallen into disrepair and is currently in pretty sad shape.
"It was usable, 10 years ago, but the equipment was taken out, seven or eight years ago, and not replaced," said Pleasant Hill resident Sally Spaulding, spearheading the park project. "Now, there are just a couple picnic tables, part of a tube slide and a frame where swings used to be."
She and Rachel's family are friends and, after her death, Spaulding wanted to do something in her honor. One night, she and her husband Steve were walking by the park and she thought of re-doing it and dedicating it to Rachel.
"It's always been on the county's plan to fix it up," she said. "And a lot of parents also want [that] because it's an eyesore." Not knowing exactly how to proceed, she called fellow resident Richard Smith, who heads the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA), and he found out what she needed to do, how much it would cost and where this park was on the county's priority list. Said Spaulding: "It was pretty far down."
Smith told her about the Mastenbrook grant — a matching-fund program through which volunteers could donate money or in-kind services. "Former [county] Park Authority Board member John Mastenbrook suggested it during development of the 1998 park bond program," explained Smith.
He learned that it would be better to replace the park's equipment than to try to fix what remained. And he talked to the Mastenbrook grant coordinator, Jan Boothby, about how to obtain this money and what kind of services — such as landscaping and park maintenance — the volunteers could provide, in return.
The total cost to renovate the park is $40,000. The county has already earmarked $20,000 for it, and the Mastenbrook fund will match anything the community raises, up to $10,000. So that's the goal of a fund-raising effort now underway, and Sully District Park Authority member Hal Strickland is also helping out.
After he and Smith discussed the plan for Rachel's Park, Strickland looked for a way to make some Park Authority money available. "I felt very strongly about trying to get this done — I made it a priority," he said. "So we were able to move some proffer dollars around [to use for the park]."
Recalling Rachel's valiant fight against her illness, Strickland said, "She struggled so long, and I think the whole community out here was pulling for her. And this would certainly be a token of our recognition of that — and one that could be used, as others struggle, to see that it doesn't go unnoticed."
He's looking forward to working with the residents to get the park put in and dedicate it to Rachel. "We've been working on this now for a year to make it happen," he said. "It will be a great addition to the community and also will leave a legacy of Rachel there."
To spread the word about the fund-raising effort, Spaulding has talked to neighbors and distributed flyers in the community. Checks payable to Rachel's Park may be mailed to: Sally Spaulding, 6219 Knoll View Place, Centreville, VA 20120. She'll deposit them into an account for the park at Chevy Chase Bank in Centreville.
"With people's help, we can again make this a beautiful and fun place to play," she said. Possible equipment being considered for the park includes a double slide, single slide, twisty slide and canopy-top slide, plus a crawling tube, bridges, climbing pole, rung ladder and corkscrew climber.
"I also want to put park benches and picnic tables in there — and some kind of a plaque," said Spaulding. "Anyone with any other fund-raising ideas or who wants to volunteer to help may e-mail her at email@example.com.
Rachel's mother, Meg Crossett, is also pleased about the plan. "We used to go to that park a lot," she said. "Rachel loved the slide and liked getting out and doing something fun."
When Spaulding first told her of the idea, Crossett was surprised. "I didn't expect it, but I think it's great," she said. "It keeps Rachel around, and that's the important thing for me. And someday, my grandkids can play there, and I can tell them about Rachel who it's named for."
The Montessori School of Oakton is also helping. "It wanted to raise money for a good cause, and we live in Virginia Run and saw the flyer," explained Natia Meehan. Her daughter Sarah, 5, and Rachel's younger sister Catherine, 4, take ballet together. And daughter Clare, 10, wrote about Rachel's Park, in January, in her school newsletter.
"We think Rachel will be glad to know that children will be enjoying the park as much as she did," wrote Clare. "This would be a good way to remember this special, little girl."
Clare recently visited the park and said that, although it "needs some repair, it's pretty cute." And her newsletter article raised $30 toward the cause. "I'm glad we're helping remember children that have died from cancer," she said. "People might think about Rachel's Park and think about doing things for other kids with cancer — such as donating to St. Jude's Hospital."