KaBOOM! Auburn making noise as a Playful City

A baseball player wanders to play around on a sculpture at Game Farm Park. Auburn recently was honored as one of 93 Playful City USA communities. - Reporter file photo
A baseball player wanders to play around on a sculpture at Game Farm Park. Auburn recently was honored as one of 93 Playful City USA communities.
— image credit: Reporter file photo

In a time when alarming obesity rates and Xbox playing minutes have jumped among inactive children, the Auburn community is putting its best recreational foot forward.

And getting recognized for it.

The city has garnered its share of well-deserved national honors, notably for its creative and entertaining Petpalooza, a high-energy festival for people and their beloved pets.

Auburn's rec calendar is packed and perpetual. Les Gove Park comes alive over many holiday weekends. KidsDay brings out a crowd to Game Farm Park in June. Concerts, kids activities and arts festivals sprinkle summer days.

There are more than 30 developed parks, 23 miles of trails – including Auburn's 4.5-mile portion of the Interurban Trail for bikers, walkers, runners and skaters – and nearly 247 acres of open space for passive and active recreation.

There is no shortage of ballparks, even if on occasion it might be difficult to find an open diamond to make up a softball rec league game.

The city's commitment to play recently made noise with KaBOOM! The national non-profit organization, which promotes the importance of good health and play for children, recognized Auburn as one of 93 Playful City USA communities from 33 states. Auburn was one of only three cities represented from the state – Mercer Island and Longview were the others – and one of 39 new communities to join the list.

"We are delighted to be recognized nationally for our commitment to play,” said Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis.

The campaign drew hundreds of applicants all of whom had to meet certain criteria to qualify.

"Auburn's application was excellent," said Mike Vietti, KaBOOM! communication manager. "They provided some unique opportunities."

Auburn especially was honored for its commitment to children by creating and implementing programs to positively impact childhood wellness, public safety and the quality of life.

Despite a sour economy, the city was praised for its support of unstructured, unplanned, spontaneous and self-motivated play. Auburn "works hard to ensure their programs and events encourage children to spend time outside at parks, playgrounds and other play spaces," the KaBOOM! report said.

Auburn, for instance, offers play equipment – from bocce balls to horseshoes – for checkout to be used at community parks, which makes play easier for everyone, KaBOOM! said.

"Equipment checkouts seem like a no-brainer, but not a lot of parks across the country do that type of thing," Vietti said.

Vietti said a primary goal of Playful City USA is to encourage cities and towns to share creative ideas, concepts and programs in an effort to increase play opportunities for children.

"New York can learn from what Auburn does," Vietti said.

Since 1995, KaBOOM! has used its model to bring together business and community interests to construct more than 1,600 new playgrounds, skateparks, sports fields and ice rinks across North America. It also offers a variety of resources, including an online community, free online training, grants, publications and other network support.

“Our country is facing two monumental deficits: a lack of unstructured play among children; and a lack of resources to address this very issue,” said Darell Hammond, KaBOOM! CEO and co-founder. “Auburn, Longview and Mercer Island all took a stand and determined that the future of their community — their children — deserves a commitment to the cause of play."

And those efforts are continuing.

Just recently, the civic, service clubs and business community are getting behind a newly formed Imagine Play for All task force that is working to raise $300,000 for a 10,000-square-foot, barrier-free playground at Les Gove Park.

The work and play will go on.

“We plan to continue to work with the community to create opportunities and spaces for play …, " said Daryl Faber, Auburn Parks, Arts & Recreation director.

"Some people might think (the national award) is trivial, but we are committed to providing quality, recreational opportunities for children."

For more information, visit www.auburnwa.gov or www.kaboom.org.

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