Petal officials explore adding infant/toddler playground at Hinton Park

By HASKEL BURNS,

Hinton Park in Petal has long been known as a safe and fun place for families and children, and officials from a handful of Petal organizations are looking to expand the park’s offerings even more to younger visitors.

Members of the Petal Excel By 5 Coalition, Petal Area Chamber of Commerce and the Coleman Center for Families and Children recently met at the center to discuss adding an infant/toddler playground at the park to supplement the play areas for older children.

“Imagine that you’re a mom or a dad, and you have a 6- or 7-year old playing out there, but you also have an 18-month-old child,” said Mary Cirino, who serves as coordinator for Parents as Teachers at the Coleman Center. “Where are you going to allow your 18-month-old child to play?

“At my work at the center, I work with a lot of (children under the age of 3), and the moms love the park, but there’s no place for a young child to play. The current playground is for (ages) 5 to 12, and it’s not appropriate for smaller children. It’s a beautiful park, and there’s lots of ways to engage your 5 to 12 year old, but not your children under 5.”

Possible pieces of equipment for the proposed infant toddler/playground are a Smart Play Loft for children ages 2-5 years old and a Smart Play Nook that offers 28 different activities for children ages 6-23 months.

“That (Smart Play Nook) would be really wonderful for that 6- to 23-month-old group,” said Leahne Lightsey, executive director of the Petal Education Foundation. “(It would be good for children who) could crawl, or those who are pulling up and standing and cruising and that kind of thing.”

Other possible ideas include shade structures, seating for parents, a market café, a Little Tykes Treehouse and a swing area.

Cirino said she would like to get as many pieces as possible from the same retailer or location, so as to keep a unified look at the park.

“One thing I don’t want at this park is for it to look like it was all just thrown together, and have it look like it came out of somebody’s backyard,” she said. “The existing park is very nice, and I think whatever we plan needs to fit with that style.

“But I would love the idea that it would have a theme, like a village or any theme type that we might choose.”

Officials are still brainstorming ideas to come up with funds for the playground, including selling painted wooden planks for $50 each that would be used to make a fence at the park. Leahne said ideally, the group would be able to raise $9,000, which would possibly put them in the running for a KaBOOM! grant that would help build the play area.

“If you have raised $9,000, then there’s a possibility – if your brand is chosen – that you could get anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000 in funds from them,” she said. “I think that’s a strong possibility.

“And if we had a Lowe’s (Home Improvement) grant where they would chip in the planks and the posts and whatnot, there’s the fence right there. It wouldn’t necessarily be the fence for the playground, but it would be the fence that would show the boundary of where we want to have the playground.”