LINCOLN SQUARE — When Jacob Park was chosen as one of the first parks to receive a new playground courtesy of the Chicago Plays! program, neighbors were spared the burden of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace outdated equipment.
That didn't mean they weren't still expected to invest some sweat equity.
City crews put up slides, monkey bars and swing sets but left a finishing touch for residents.
On Friday, the Chicago Park District delivered a pile of wood chips (also known as fibar) of Himalayan proportions, intended as the park's new play surface.
Someone had to spread it.
"They told us we'd need 35 volunteers," said Ben Ranney, one of the leaders of an unofficial group of park advocates.
In the middle of the afternoon, on a weekday, he mustered roughly half that number, but though the recruits were few, they were mighty.
Neighbors formed a wheelbarrow brigade and grabbed shovels and rakes. Nearly five hours later, as twilight fell, they had laid a bed of wood chips a foot deep and, pending a final inspection from the city, delivered a new playground to the next generation of Jacob Park children.
"We want the kids to see that you've got to work to make your neighborhood the way you want it," said Saskia Hofman, one of many residents who wrangled youngsters during the chip-spreading process.
The park is an important communal space in a "neighborhood where people do gather on sidewalks and front stoops," she said. "People spend a lot of time outside here. It's a way that people connect."
Yet the playground had deteriorated over the years and the equipment was occasionally targeted by vandals.
"We all believed it could come back," said Hofman. On Friday, it did.
"I was a little emotional," she said, "seeing all our neighbors come together."