GREENFIELD — James Whitcomb Riley’s poems could come to life in downtown Greenfield if the city is chosen for a nationwide grant.
Greenfield was selected as a finalist for a grant to build temporary play areas based off the famous poet’s work throughout downtown to encourage children to be active. Community leaders will learn whether the city will receive the funding in September.
Greenfield is among 200 cities and towns, including New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, to be chosen as a finalist for the Play Everywhere Challenge, an effort that seeks to award money to communities that establish play areas for children away from typical playgrounds.
KaBoom, a national nonprofit dedicated to ensuring all children have opportunities to play and be active, will award $1 million to 50 communities across the country as part of the challenge.
Locally, rough plans include building 10 to 15 playground features out of recycled materials, such as tires and wood pallets, to create scenes from and named after Riley’s most famous poems.
For example, a wooden train could depict “Griggsby’s Station” and be built from up-cycled wood pallets. The “Bumblebee” would be created using old tires painted like a bee to build a tunnel for children to climb over or crawl through. Strings for “The Old Guitar” would be comprised of a small ropes course.
The installments would be temporarily set up in parking spaces along the path of the proposed Riley Literary Trail in downtown Greenfield.
Ideally, the installments, which likely will be no bigger than one parking space, would be set up downtown for a week. Then, city leaders would look to permanently place them elsewhere, perhaps in a park or along the Pennsy Trail, out of the way of public parking, said Jenna Harbin, Greenfield’s associate planner.
More than 1,000 cities and towns applied for the Play Everywhere Challenge. Bloomington, Fort Wayne, Gary, Jeffersonville and LaPorte also made Indiana’s list of finalists, according to the challenge’s website.
Projects created with the funding should encourage families to “play along the way,” according to grant details. Sites where play areas could be established include sidewalks, vacant lots, bus stops and open streets — anywhere families already spend time, the Play Everywhere Challenge website states.
Harbin said the challenge aims to ensure children get plenty of physical activity. The play areas that would be created in Greenfield through the grant would encourage families to play as they enjoy the downtown area.
“As they’re walking to the courthouse or a restaurant, we want them to stop and have fun,” she said. “Our whole goal is to bring these poems to life.”
Should the city be picked for the funding, city leaders hope to install the play areas by spring, Harbin said.
Judy Swift, a member of the Greenfield Coalition — a group of community stakeholders that aims to revitalize downtown and is helping finalize plans for the grant funding — said the project would blend art and play, attracting kids and adults to the area, achieving a goal of the coalition.
Should the project come to fruition, she’d be one of the first community members in line to bring her young grandchildren to play.
“They’d love it,” she said. “It would be fabulous.”