CHAMPLAIN — When he was a boy, John Canty loved to play at the park in Perry Mills.
Years later, he was sad to see it fall to rack and ruin — and to realize there was no place like it for his own children to play.
So, Canty began a mission to restore the park in the Town of Champlain hamlet.
This Friday and Saturday, community workdays will help to get the Perry Mills Park ready for a new generation of children.
BENEFITS OF PLAY
Local kids played Little League baseball, basketball and roller hockey in the park when Canty was growing up.
“I played there all through school," he said. "There was always something to do as a kid, and I loved it.”
But as the years went by, the park declined. About five years ago, with “the park being so decrepit, they took everything out,” he said.
All that's left now is an unusable basketball court and baseball backstop.
“We needed something for the kids to play with,” Canty said. “My son loves video games. How can I tell him to go play outside if there’s nowhere to congregate?
“It’s good for kids to be outside.”
Canty believes that children, with their absorption in technology, are lacking the play and social skills that previous generations developed, and that they are missing out as a result.
The refurbishment of the Perrys Mills Park is, he believes, a way to encourage local children to play outdoors again.
SIGNATURES TO SLIDES
Canty began the project with a petition to the Champlain Town Council, and, he said, “the community really came behind it.”
Town Councilor Bryan Moore, liaison to the Perry Mills Park Committee, said that list of signatures “showed there was a lot of interest in reopening the park.”
As a result, he said, “the town realized the will was there to keep it up and maintain it and to help raise money for it.”
Canty chairs the committee, and appreciates the work of his fellow committee members and the support of his neighbors. He also appreciates the help of the Town Council and Moore.
Moore expressed his gratitude to the committee; the Town Council; Champlain Highway Superintendent Allen Racine and his workers; and town secretary Jane West, as well as Champlain Telephone Company, which has also provided support.
Thanks to a grant from the New York State Health Foundation and the Clinton County Health Department, and funds from an organization called IOBY, the project was able to proceed.
IOBY, which stands for In Our Backyard (a takeoff on the expression Not In My Backyard), provided a grant matching local donations that were obtained via online crowdfunding.
Thus, on Friday and Saturday, slides, a swing set and other playground equipment will be assembled and installed at the park.
CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS
Volunteer manpower on those days will be critical, Moore said.
“The big thing is getting people here on Friday and Saturday who can help put things together,” as the playground equipment will need to be assembled.
Work will begin at about 10 a.m. on Friday and 8 a.m. on Saturday.
"Any help would be welcome," Moore said.
Canty said that, on Saturday, they will be “working till it’s finished,” with the current phrase of work expected to be completed that day.
He noted that he started the petition drive this past summer, and he is pleased with how the project has come together in the time since. It is “amazing,” he said, that it has “happened in such a short time.”
A PLAYGROUND TAKES SHAPE
Canty said that the park will include slides and other playground equipment for the 5-to-12-year-old age group, and a “nature inspired” area for children ages 2, 3 and 4.
That will include a culvert in a hill, a slide and sandbox, with natural materials being used. It is an attempt to “try to get their imagination rolling,” Canty said.
“There’s going to be so much going on at this park. I would only have dreamed of this as a kid.”
Canty and Moore both spoke of the return of Little League to the park. Volleyball, soccer, pickleball and other activities are planned, and the basketball court is being refurbished.
Soon, John Canty’s children will be able to play at the same park where their father played.
“I have a 13-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a 1 1/2-year-old — one for every set” in terms of age groups and equipment.
“They’re all going to love it.”
HOW TO HELP
To sign up to help with the community build at Perry Mills Park, call John Canty at 298-3827 or (252) 626-3827, or Bryan Moore at 569-2666.
If possible, volunteers are encouraged to bring their own tools, including 10-foot ladders, socket sets, a battery-operated impact driver, post-hole diggers, hand tamps, 1/4-inch and 3/8-inch heavy-duty drill bits, as well as basic tools like hammers.