By Stephen J. Kotz
Most Sag Harbor residents probably pay little attention to Mashashimuet Park, unless they stop by to hit some tennis balls, attend a baseball game, or take their kids to the playground.
But park officials are hoping residents will think about how much fun their children have at that playground — and how much more fun they’ll have when it is completely redeveloped with a new child-inspired design — and contribute generously when they receive a fundraising letter, which is being sent to all residents in the 11963 zip code, in the coming days.
The park, which is actually owned by the private and non-profit Park and Recreation Association of Sag Harbor, is aiming to raise approximately $500,000 to pay for the playground project, according to Robby Stein, a member of both the park board and the village board of trustees.
“We are trying to organize a community project that comes completely from the grassroots,” said Mr. Stein on Tuesday.
He pointed out that because the park is private — it was established by Sag Harbor’s great benefactor, Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, in 1908 — it cannot hold a referendum to ask voters to approve the expenditure.
The park, he added, gets no municipal funding, other than a contract with the Sag Harbor School District, which currently pays the park $179,259 a year to use its fields for its sports teams. The park’s other revenue comes from its tennis program and private donations.
“This is a one-time ask,” he added. “It’s not like every year we’ll need to raise another $300,000.”
The park’s playground, which occupies about an acre along the park’s western edge, has been enjoyed by generations of Sag Harbor children. But, like any public amenity that gets heavy use, the playground has seen its better days and some of its play pieces — like the merry-go-round whose chief purpose, it seems, was to make children dizzy, if not sick to their stomachs — have been removed.
Earlier this year, working with the playground design company, Leathers & Associates, the park board enlisted the help of the children at the Sag Harbor Elementary School in designing a new playground.
The end result of those brainstorming sessions will be a fanciful design that includes a whale with a blowhole climber, a net, and tunnel; a whaling boat with a windmill and rock climb; a giant twisty slide and coil climber; a train and passenger car with a double slide and tunnel; a castle rock climber, balance beams, monkey bars, tightrope walk; “a triple wavy-straight-bumpy” slide, and 11 new swings.
Mr. Stein said the park held a “Picnic for the Park Playground” in August and received a $4,700 donation from a merit badge fundraiser organized by Sag Harbor Girl Scout Troup 152 but it held off on major fundraising efforts until now in part because of fears residents would confuse the effort with the John Steinbeck Park proposed for the village’s waterfront.
Besides the grassroots effort, the park board will seek larger donations as well as in-kind donations of labor and materials with the goal of getting the project done in 2017, Mr. Stein said.
Donations can be sent to the Park and Recreation Association of Sag Harbor, New York, Inc. at P.O. Box 1653, Sag Harbor, NY 11963.