St. Charles Park District seeks public input on repurposing beloved, yet outdated, playground rocket slide

  • The rocket ship slide at Kehoe Park in St. Charles is 60 years old. The St. Charles Park District is is in the early planning stages of determining how the beloved structure could still be at the park, but no longer in use for play.

    The rocket ship slide at Kehoe Park in St. Charles is 60 years old. The St. Charles Park District is is in the early planning stages of determining how the beloved structure could still be at the park, but no longer in use for play. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted9/10/2021 6:00 AM

A youngster's fascination with outer space has likely changed since it was a new adventure for Americans in the early 1960s. When playgrounds were designed in that era, it was common to see something like the rocket slide at Kehoe Park in St. Charles become the centerpiece.

Today, such a setup would understandably be upgraded with more bells and whistles to "send" a child into outer space. Thus, park district officials might present a more modern space exploration-themed playground like Upland Design built in Wheeler Park in Geneva about five years ago.

 

Those types of advancements don't make it any easier to consider that a favorite slide and climbing structure for generations of children doesn't pass the safety grades in today's more litigious society. That's basically why the St. Charles Park District is in the early planning stages of determining how the beloved rocket slide at Kehoe Park on the city's west side along Prairie Street could still be at the park but no longer in use for play.

The St. Charles Park District is gathering community feedback and formulating ideas on how to preserve the vintage rocket ship slide structure at Kehoe Park. Playground standards have changed significantly since it was installed in the 1960s.
The St. Charles Park District is gathering community feedback and formulating ideas on how to preserve the vintage rocket ship slide structure at Kehoe Park. Playground standards have changed significantly since it was installed in the 1960s. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

My wife says she hung out with friends at the rocket slide in the mid-1960s (it was placed in the park in 1964), and we took our son there for one of his first trips down a slide in 1987. And, believe it or not, I took a climb up the rocket slide structure about 15 years ago when a clue in a scavenger hunt fundraiser was hidden at its top rung.

When considering the thousands of area residents with similar stories, it was no surprise a public outcry on social media unfolded when the park district first revealed the rocket slide at the park affectionately known as "Rocketship Park" was going to be retired.

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The park district had every intention of preserving it in the park in some fashion but wasn't too clear about its objective.

"To be fair about how residents reacted, our first messaging did not clearly state our intentions, and it's why people kind of flipped out," said Jenny Santos, administrative assistant to the parks and recreation director at St. Charles Park District.

"We know how much that rocket slide structure really means to the community," Santos said. "Most of the people here at the park district grew up playing on that rocket, too. It's older than most people here and something we treasure also."

Given all of the country's serious problems and all of the craziness that takes place on social media channels, it was actually refreshing to see a true piece of Americana when people spoke up about their rocket slide memories.

St. Charles Park District officials are soliciting opinions on what will be installed in place of the vintage rocket ship slide in Kehoe Park. Columnist Dave Heun suggests the St. Charles Park District install a more modern space exploration themed playground, such as this one Upland Design built in Wheeler Park in Geneva about five years ago.
St. Charles Park District officials are soliciting opinions on what will be installed in place of the vintage rocket ship slide in Kehoe Park. Columnist Dave Heun suggests the St. Charles Park District install a more modern space exploration themed playground, such as this one Upland Design built in Wheeler Park in Geneva about five years ago. - Courtesy of Dave Heun
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Sure, it would have been better if those weighing in had first looked at the minutes from a park district meeting in August or the other information the park district had on its website about the desire to preserve the slide. But that's not how social media works.

Still, the knee-jerk reactions can be chalked up as confirming the park district's initial thoughts about wanting to keep the rocket at the park.

"We anticipated the community response, but that's part of being a steward of not only their recreation but also their safety," Santos said. "We would get in a lot of trouble if we waited until somebody actually really got hurt. There is no good way to make it safe now."

The park district timetable calls for gathering community feedback and formulating ideas that would result in the rocket slide being preserved in 2022, possibly with a history signboard about the structure. Ideas are just now coming as more residents engage in the park district website.

St. Charles isn't the only city that put up a rocket slide in those days. They popped up all over the country. The space race was the topic capturing kids' imaginations.

With that in mind, here's my idea: Create a more modern "rocket-themed" park at Kehoe, maybe similar in some way to the one in Wheeler Park. And then have the original rocket slide stay in its same spot, fenced off with its history and the story about our love affair with space in those early 1960s on signboards or historic plaques.

We could let kids still call it Rocketship Park, and the Kehoe family, which donated the land for the park all those years ago, would still have its name on the signs.

Rescue dog Heaven from Batavia's Starfish Animal Rescue is among 10 dogs nationwide competing for People magazine's World's Cutest Rescue Dog title.
Rescue dog Heaven from Batavia's Starfish Animal Rescue is among 10 dogs nationwide competing for People magazine's World's Cutest Rescue Dog title. - Courtesy of Starfish Animal Rescue
A cute rescue

It may take a dose of "Heaven" to get Batavia some national recognition through People magazine.

But Heaven, a mixed breed rescue at Batavia's Starfish Animal Rescue, may have what it takes.

Heaven is among 10 dogs nationwide competing for the magazine's World's Cutest Rescue Dog crown for 2021.

Voting for this honor takes place through Sept. 29 at people.com and a link to the rescue dog contest.

After reading the story on the People site about how Heaven's foster home eventually turned into her real home, it made it easy to cast a vote her way. That, and Heaven's infectious smile, added to the reality that we have to support our local candidate, right?

Starfish, based in Plainfield since 2006, has a shelter at 167 Oswalt Ave. in Batavia. The organization says it has rescued 6,000 animals since its inception. Now, that's a slice of heaven as well.

Dancing in heaven

About 13 years ago, Joe Greenberg was among the first dancers cast in the first Dancing with the Geneva Stars fundraiser for the Geneva arts and schools.

My wife and I were honored to be in that group as well, taking part in what I still consider the most entertaining fundraiser concept that's ever been staged in the Tri-Cities.

And a guy like Greenberg, a longtime fixture in Geneva as a worker at The Little Traveler for nearly 50 years, epitomized the event. He was the oldest fellow in the group but took on the most energetic dance when doing the swing with his partner. And he had a blast because he loved to dance and did it often.

He danced with a troupe in Elgin, and it wasn't unusual to see him on occasion cut a rug on the small dance floor at Villa Verone restaurant in Geneva.

Dancing has long been one of my favorite sports, so it was fun to get to know Joe a little better in that setting and see a fellow of his age still quite nimble on his feet.

Greenberg passed away last week at the age of 95, and Geneva lost one of its biggest fans in the process. And heaven gained a new dancer to its ensemble.

We like our food trucks

More often than not, and if the weather cooperates, adding the words "food truck" to any type of community festival or fundraiser draws attention.

It's especially good when food trucks are a part of an event with music and other activities.

The Random Acts Matter volunteer organization hopes others find the food truck idea to work well when hosting its Food Truck and Music Festival from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25 at Pottawatomie Park in St. Charles.

Ticket sale information is available on the randomactsmatter.com website. Keep this part in mind: The organization can't sell tickets for drinks on park district property, so those must be purchased in advance online.

All types of food and music will be available at this 21-and-older event. Tiny Country Band, Dennis O'Brien Band, The Collective Band and Trio Amigos are lined up for music.

The food trucks include Fernando's Street Kitchen, Stadium Street Eats, Dee's Place Chicago Soul Food, Pierogi Rig, Kimmer's Ice Cream and Soy and Lou On The Go Brew.

dheun@sbcglobal.net

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