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The Chelsea community has launched a significant endeavor to rejuvenate the city’s largest park, TimberTown, with a February 20th kick-off fundraising event in a packed McKune Room at the Chelsea District Library.

The ambitious “TimberTown Reimagined” project is spearheaded by a dedicated steering committee and the Chelsea Parks & Rec Commission to transform the park into a modern, accessible, and vibrant open space for residents and visitors alike.

Shawn Personke, Chair of the Chelsea Parks & Rec Commission, emphasized the project’s importance to the community, stating, “We’re launching our project with great enthusiasm, showcasing our new playground designs and calling for volunteers. This initiative is set to redefine TimberTown, enhancing our community’s quality of life.” Personke’s vision is for the park to serve as a dynamic hub for all ages, fostering a sense of belonging and community spirit.

Community members gathering at a public indoor event with festive decorations in a spacious hall, engaging in conversations and networking.

Chelsea area residents filled the McKune Room to learn more about TimberTown’s upgrades. Photo by Doug Marrin

Jeff Hardcastle, a steering committee member, detailed the project’s four main projects: installation of six pickleball courts, restoration of the art mosaic “Pathway to Renewal,” infrastructure for official B2B Trailhead designation, and play structure rebuild.

“The focus tonight is on the play structure, a core component of our park’s heart and soul,” Hardcastle explained to the packed room. “But this project encompasses much more, including infrastructure improvements and a more modern, universally accessible playground.” Now over 25 years old, the large wooden play structure needs rebuilding due to splinters, broken parts, poor sight lines for parents watching their kids, and more.

Located on Sibley Road, a block west of M-52, TimberTown was constructed in 1997 through a community-wide effort. Hardcastle recounted how more than 1,000 volunteers showed up to build the gigantic play structure in just a few days. Not all volunteers swung a hammer or cut wood. On-site child care was provided, as were meals prepared by a team of thirty volunteers. When Hardcastle asked the audience if anyone helped with the initial 1997 construction, many hands went up in the crowded room.

Man presenting at a community meeting with a microphone in front of a display with Timber Town park plans, accompanied by a woman standing by informational brochures and a large monitor showing a paused video.

Jeff Hardcastle, a strong proponent for outdoor recreation, spoke to the crowd about funds needed, volunteerism, and planned improvements to the park. Photo by Doug Marrin

“It was an amazing experience to be part of,” recalled Hardcastle. “It was like a good old fashioned barn raising.” While the makeover won’t be as massive of an effort as the original construction, it is still eye-popping. “We only need four to five hundred volunteers this time,” Hardcastle explained to the group, smiling.

The new design will maintain the wooden elements while introducing modern, safer, and more accessible features. “We’re keeping the core wood structure but refurbishing everything around it with new materials that are safer, more colorful, and made from recycled materials,” Hardcastle stated.

“We’ve already seen incredible support from around town, and now we’re focused on rallying our volunteers and securing the necessary funds to make this vision a reality,” Personke told the group.

Informative poster for Timber Town Reimagined project featuring a colorful map and list of park features, with a call for volunteers for a build event scheduled for August 6-11, 2024, and a QR code for additional information.

Photo by Doug Marrin

The project’s collaborative spirit is evident, with local major players like Chelsea Hospital, Chelsea State Bank, Jiffy Mix, Chelsea school district, Chelsea Retirement Community, 5 Healthy Towns, Chelsea Community Foundation, Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative, and Chelsea Area Friends for Recreation. “This is a universally used facility, making collaboration across the area seamless,” said Hardcastle, illuminating the strong community support for the park’s upgrade.

Adjacent to TimberTown, Gestamp, an international automotive components manufacturer, has pledged significant support. The company has donated its engineering and production expertise to create the play structure’s towers.

The launch of the 90-day public campaign aims to secure $100,000 in matching funds, with contributions from Chelsea State Bank and an anonymous foundation each pledging $50,000. The resulting $200,000 will be allocated specifically for the play structure within the broader TimberTown Reimagined initiative.

The play structure fundraiser is part of a larger two-year redevelopment project for TimberTown, with an overall estimated investment of $1.3 million, kickstarted last fall by the Chelsea Pickleball Club. Their successful fundraising of approximately $200,000 laid the groundwork for constructing a new 6-court pickleball facility, anticipated to open for play in June.

Fundraising and volunteer sign-up are now officially underway for the August 6-11 community build dates. You can find out more information on joining the effort at https://www.timbertownchelsea.org/

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