Clayton Cuts Ribbon On New Inclusive Playground

Harmony Playground at East Clayton Community Park is officially open for play

CLAYTON – After saying it for eight years – “Every child deserves a chance to play.” That tagline became a reality for the Clayton community Thursday when Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod and the Town Council officially cut the ribbon to open the Harmony Playground presented by Caterpillar at East Clayton Community Park.

The Town, in partnership with the Clayton Community Recreational Foundation and numerous community partners large and small, worked tirelessly to build the inclusive playground, which allows children and their guardians of ALL abilities to play together.

The Clayton Community Recreational Foundation, Inc., is a non-profit organization that has helped the community support family events, parks and other Clayton recreation activities for more than two decades.

“Harmony Playground has been a long time coming,” Dean Penny, Foundation chair and a leader of the project’s fundraising efforts over the years, said. “We are excited to have finally reached the stage where we have opened this up to the community.”

Larry Bailey, former Clayton Parks and Recreation Director, said, “This playground was just a dream 10 years ago when the Town started designing East Clayton Community Park. Instead of just putting some swings and slides out here, we knew we had an opportunity to build something unique.”

The Harmony Playground is that. Not only is it the first of its kind in Clayton, at least one of its features offers a truly one-of-a-kind play experience.

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The playground’s Music Area was created by the North Carolina State University Park Scholars Class of 2019. Each class of Park Scholars selects a “legacy project” within the community. The 2019 Class approached Clayton Parks and Recreation a few years ago because they wanted to build a playground for children with special needs. The scholars then spent the next two years working in partnership with Parks and Recreation to design, raise funds and, eventually, build the Harmony Playground’s music walls and poles.

“There have been so many people involved in this project over the years that it would be hard to name them all. From focus groups to donors and designers, this has been a true community effort.” Current Parks and Recreation Director Scott Barnard reflected.

Among those who have worked to make the playground possible are local industry giants like Caterpillar, the naming sponsor, as well as Novo Nordisk, Gregory Pool Equipment company, Grifols and Northeast Foods. The Dean and Cathy Penny Family Fund and T&T Creative have been a big part of the playgrounds success – providing funding, services and staff time to fundraising efforts.

The Town of Clayton provided the land for the playground and $600,000 in funding for additional amenities such as expanded parking, shelters and bathrooms. The Johnston County Board of Commissioners provided an additional $100,000 to the playground in their 2019-2020 budget. The Town also received a very competitive Connect NC Parks & Recreation Trust Fund grant for $89,810 and a GameTime grant worth $55,000-$60,000 in savings from this playground equipment manufacturer.

County Commissioner Butch Lawter was a member of the original playground focus group. He said, “Today we celebrate the culmination of an 8-year journey that started with … about 10 people who had a vision where children and adults of all ages and abilities could come and play together.”

Clayton Town Councilman Michael Grannis also has been a supporter of the playground since the beginning planning stages. “I look forward to seeing all children of all needs being able to participate in this park,”

Estimates show that about 4,000 children with disabilities live within 20 miles of Harmony Playground could benefit from the playground, which is located at East Clayton Community Park, 1774 Glen Laurel Road, just off of Highway 42 East.

“On behalf of all of our kids…THANK YOU,” said Candice Collier- Lang, a parent of two daughters, one with special needs, who was a member of the initial community focus group that helped kick-start the playground effort.