Chehalis has many names: the Twin City, Rose City, and even Mint City. Yet perhaps the town should consider a new name: Park City. Just of exit 76, Penny Playground and Recreation Park is a jewel in the already resplendent crown of Chehalis’ wonderful parks.
The community built Recreation Park in 1954. Countless children found fun on its colorful animal-themed playground. The horse swings and elephant slide entertained smaller kids and the tunnel slide and merry-go-round offered thrills beloved by older children.
For four decades, many families spent countless hours there. They loved flying kites on the park’s 12 acres. Youngsters played ball on the fields and learned to swim in the outdoor community pool built in 1959. In the 1960s, roses added beauty to the border of the park. A community and youth building was constructed by Chehalis Rotary in 1955. It’s now known as the Virgil R. Lee Community Building. The site hosted endless meetings and gatherings over the years.
The McKinley Stump lived in its pergola at Recreation Park after being vandalized at the train station. The historic stump was used for speeches. It supported the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft. It remained at the park until 2007 when it was relocated near its original location by West and Market Streets.
Present Penny Playground
In the early 1990s, a campaign raised pennies to build a new playground. Chehalis school children collected change to support the project, culminating in over $80,000. In 1993, the current wooden playground opened for new generations of families. A labor of love for project manager Connie Small and local Rotarians, the playground construction took only one week.
Small’s love of children and Chehalis was captured in this quote; “Friendships were formed and strengthened and through the years Penny Playground will be remembered as the time the whole community came together for one goal, to make our children’s dream come true. We all feel a tug at our hearts and a sense of pride at what was accomplished one week in April of 1993.”
But that impressive week wasn’t the end. Improvements to the area continued. A spray park became the newest addition in 2007 to the delight of local children. The updated splash pad replaced a small kiddie pool.
The larger pool expansion in 2014 added an updated facility complete with a beach entry pool and the bright blue and red water slides it’s known for today. With 40,000 swimmers each year, the Shaw Aquatics Center and surrounding park areas are a welcoming entrance to Chehalis.
The Future of Fun
The future of Penny Playground is currently in the works. Together, The Chehalis Foundation and Chehalis City Parks Department are laying groundwork for a large-scale renovation. The 20-year-old structures and surfaces need safety improvements. Groundbreaking is expected to take place this fall.
The park will be the only ADA accessible playground in a 70-mile radius. Additions include a we-go-round, which is fun for all kids including those who use a wheelchair. Bucket seat zip lines and swings for kids who can’t hold on offer thrills for all abilities. Tactile imagine play stations with dials and colors are fun for those who enjoy textures. They’ll be ideally positioned to accommodate sitting or standing users.
The park’s renovation is a community-driven effort. Chehalis school kids again gathered change to raise funds for the modern playground. Teacher Don Bunker and students from W.F. West High School are creating a new archway. There’s still time to sponsor a small fence penny or a larger medallion and support one of the best parks in Western Washington.
Outside of community fundraising, additional financing comes from state and federal grants. A Trans Alta grant will fund new surfaces and lighting. The Ray and Mary Ingwerson Trust left an endowment for ball fields in Chehalis. This money will be used to fix the drainage issues at the park’s fields and add other improvements.
Penny Playground is a central hub and a place of great joy for Chehalis residents. The history of this park – especially the traditions and memories of families who live and visit here – have immense value. It was built by the community with simple pennies and now it will be remade with pennies into an inclusive and accommodating place for all. It’s a heartwarming tale. The space is a blessing to all who visit there – past, present, and well into the future.