With tears in her eyes, Meg Crossett stood beside long-time friend Sally Spaulding, Saturday afternoon, as neighbors and dignitaries alike gathered in Centreville to dedicate Rachel's Park.
When her health permitted, Crossett's daughter Rachel loved to play in that park near her home in Centreville's Pleasant Hill community — even though it was old and shabby when she went there. Rachel died of cancer in July 2001 at age 6, but the park has now been renovated and renamed in her honor.
"This was three years in the making, and we couldn't have done it without everyone's generous donations," said Spaulding, who spearheaded the efforts. "It's a place where Rachel will always be remembered."
The park is on the corner of Hidden Canyon Road and Riverland Run, and it's now been spruced up and revitalized with brand-new playground equipment. And, boy, did it need it.
Fairfax County owns the land where the former Pleasant Hill Park stands. But the playground equipment was removed, nine years ago, and never replaced. And as time went on, things only worsened until all that was left were a couple picnic tables, part of a tube slide and a frame where swings used to be.
But Spaulding decided to fix it up again as a tribute to Rachel and to provide a fun place for local children to play. It now boasts two regular swings, two baby swings, a double slide, a curly slide, a small crawling-tube, a climbing wall, two animals on springs, a park bench and a covered picnic table under a canopy.
The equipment was installed, a month ago; and Saturday, it was filled with romping, laughing, happy children. But it was a long road to that point.
Helping was the Mastenbrook grant — a matching-fund program through which volunteers may donate money or in-kind services, such as park maintenance and landscaping. The park renovation cost $40,000, and Fairfax County had earmarked $20,000 for it. Local fund-raisers yielded another $10,000, and the Mastenbrook fund matched it.
At the dedication ceremony, Spaulding thanked Pleasant Hill resident Richard Smith for helping her contact the right people about the fund, and Sully District Park Authority representative Hal Strickland who "helped smooth the process."
She also acknowledged Liz Cronaur, who designed the park; Jan Boothby, Spaulding's connection to the Mastenbrook fund; Matt Devor, a Park Authority manager who restored the picnic table and bench, installed a handicap ramp and put up a plaque to Rachel; and Rachel's parents, Jim and Meg Crossett, who did the landscaping.
"I'm really happy that it's here," said Spaulding. "We can all enjoy it." Then Meg Crossett thanked Spaulding for all her hard work and acknowledged Strickland's presence at the event, as well as Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), who brought his dog Marley. "It's a great gift," said Crossett. "Rachel's name is here, and our grandkids can go here and play someday."
"I wouldn't have missed it for the world," said Strickland. "This is a pleasure to be here. My satisfaction was working with the community. These are the projects [the Park Authority] loves to work with, and it's given me a personal satisfaction, as well."
"Meg's husband grew up just a door down from my wife JoAnn and I in Greenbriar," he continued. "Pat and Andy [Lawless, Meg's parents] lived there, too. JoAnn and I watched their family grow up — and grieved along with you [when Rachel died]."
Explaining how the park renovation got the go-ahead, Strickland said that, after Smith called him about it, "I asked Supervisor Frey if we could move around some dollars, and he said, 'Make it happen.'" Strickland, too, expressed his appreciation to Spaulding and to the community for their tireless efforts in making Rachel's Park a reality.
Then Frey thanked Spaulding for all the "time, effort and motivation" she put into it. "It's a sad occasion, but a happy occasion, too, because Rachel will now have a physical presence here — not just a spiritual one," he said. "It's a pleasure to be a part of it."
Then Rachel's little sister, Katherine, 6, cut the red ribbon on the park. The inscription on the plaque at the park's entrance reads: "Dedicated to Rachel Crossett, age 6, who inspired us all with her will to live. If tears could make a staircase, and memories a lane, I'd walk right up to heaven, and bring you back again."