A popular playground will get a much-needed upgrade if Friends of Itasca State Park reaches their $50,000 goal.

A recent $7,500 grant from the George W. Neilson Foundation brought fundraising efforts nearly half way to their target.

A 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the Friends’ mission is “to support the preservation of the natural beauty, historical and ecological significance, and recreational opportunity of Itasca State Park as a unique heritage for present and future generations.” Members volunteer their time.

In 2019, at the request of park staff, the Friends began raising money to replace equipment at the swimming beach playground. Two of the three slides, swings and other pieces have been removed because they are broken and parts are no longer available to repair them. The replacement project will add pieces that are ADA-compliant in order to accommodate all children.

Itasca’s swimming beach playground is its most popular. In addition to families and tourists, thousands of school groups visit Itasca State Park each year, according to park naturalist Sandra Lichter.

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“Most of these groups will utilize the picnic grounds area for lunch and time at the playground. Many of the groups that we work with also will use the playground area as a fun, active station while doing programming with the naturalists,” she said.

Lichter continued, “There also are many other groups from Scouts, 4-H, church, Headstart families, preschool and other youth groups that utilize the playground area. Many of these groups visit the many well-known sites in the park from the Headwaters, etc., but find the playground is in a great location near the lake for lunch or snack, a break and some physical activity.”

Originally purchased and installed by Friends of Itasca State Park in 1995, heavy use over 25 years has taken a toll on the existing equipment. According to a news release from the Friends, “While park staff have done their best to maintain the site, they are no longer able to buy replacement parts because the equipment is so old. New regulations for playground equipment do not allow for retrofitting of this unusable playground equipment, so the only option is to purchase new equipment.”

Due to COVID-19, Friends of Itasca State Park were unable to conduct their traditional fundraising in 2020.

The Friends have designated all proceeds from their annual raffle toward this project, if the raffle can proceed in 2021.

A special fund has been set up with the Northwest Minnesota Foundation to facilitate the project. Friends members also continue to write grants.

The Friends raised some funds through GiveMN and from memorials in the name of Candy Malm, who served on the Friends board and was a long time teacher in the Park Rapids schools.

To date, donations have provided $11,815; small grants, $2,000, and social media $225.

The Friends say they will continue their fundraising efforts until the full amount is secured for the playground. The target date is December 2022.

Donations to this project may be sent to Friends of Itasca State Park, 36750 Main Park Drive, Park Rapids, MN 56470 or go to www.friendsofitasca.org and click on “GiveMN” to donate by credit card.