Two Girls Save a Utah Merry-Go-Round

By Rich Kane, Reporter sltrib.com [1]

The merry-go-round in Lindsey Gardens is a beat-up hunk of ugly round metal, rusty in parts, with weeds growing beneath it.

But for some residents of Salt Lake City’s Avenues, that dilapidated playground ride represents their childhood. And those memories are worth fighting over.

That’s what Phoenix Ostermann, Kelly Stevens and their 12-year-old daughters, Mabel Bates and Teddy Stevens, found themselves doing two weeks ago when, overnight and without warning, a wire fence went up around the park’s playground, closing off the swing set, spiral slide, climbing bars and merry-go-round.

The next day, a bulldozer was parked in the middle, with plans for a shiny new plastic playground tied to the fence.

Plans that didn’t include the merry-go-round.

“This was shocking,” Ostermann said. “We didn’t know there was going to be this huge change happening.”

Mabel and Teddy took action, launching a petition drive to save the merry-go-round. They quickly gathered 400 signatures.

“Everyone in the Avenues we talked to don’t want it to leave,” Teddy said. “This park is the oldest one in Utah, and it’s had all sorts of merry-go-rounds, so it’s a part of history.”

The metal merry-go-round is indeed one of the few left in Salt Lake City, according to Lisa Shaffer, the city’s public services director. Older steel playground equipment like merry-go-rounds have been ripped out and replaced around the country with newer, plastic play structures and padded surfaces, designed to lower the chances of kids getting hurt on them.

Girls Who Saved a Merry-Go-Round in a Salt Lake City Park

Girls Who Saved a Merry-Go-Round in a Salt Lake City Park

Such a ride could be perceived as dangerous, since the object is to get it spinning as dizzyingly fast as possible. But studies have debunked that assumption. A 2009 Consumer Product Safety Commission report examining 2001 through 2008 found that 598 children suffered playground injuries from swings and 469 from slides, but only 33 from merry-go-rounds. There were also 100 reported deaths in that period. (The new Lindsey Gardens playground will have two swings and two slides.)

Ostermann, however, believes something gets lost when old school is replaced by safer school.

“I don’t think new is necessarily better,” Ostermann said. “People perceive merry-go-rounds to be unsafe, but I think they’re really important for child development. Kids need to take challenges and risks in order to have a safe childhood. All my kids grew up here and my heart would skip a beat when they climbed to the top of the metal slide, but I would step back and let them have the experience. No one wants their kid to get hurt, but if they do, they’ll know what not to do next time. My school playground was on asphalt. Teeter totters … the goal was to flip the other kids off.”

On Sept. 16, Ostermann, Stevens and their daughters met with Shaffer at City Hall to voice their concerns and present her with their petition.

They won. The merry-go-round will be spared, and instead of being scrapped, it will be put into storage with the intention of refurbishing it, giving it safety upgrades like installing a regulator mechanism to control the speed, and painting it so the steel doesn’t get too hot.

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[1]  24 Sep 2016

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Innovative Design Considerations for Outdoor Playgrounds

There is a wonderful variety of designs and options for outdoor playgrounds, including the following 4:

  • All-Inclusive:  Children with disabilities often cannot play on a standard playground and therefore cannot take advantage of the benefits that play provides.  An all-inclusive playground is a space that provides play opportunities for children of all ages and abilities. These types of playgrounds are designed to promote the healthy development of all children’s physical, social, cognitive, and sensory abilities.
  • Loose Parts:  In playgrounds, loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways.  They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials.  Loose parts can be natural or synthetic. In a outdoor playground, we can provide an array of loose parts for use in play, including stones, stumps, sand, gravel, fabric, twigs, wood, pallets, balls, pails, small shovels, baskets, crates, boxes, logs, rope, and tires.
Items for Loose Parts Playground

Items for Loose Parts Playground

  • Natural:  Natural playgrounds are designed to look like miniature natural landscapes, and they’re full of natural elements–like logs, rocks, greenery–just waiting to be discovered by children of all ages.  Sometimes they’re referred to as ecological parks, play parks, or nature parks.
Logs Creatively Placed in a Natural Playground

Logs Creatively Placed in a Natural Playground

  • Percussion Music:  Musical instruments can bring the fun and ease of playing percussion-type instruments into the outside world.  Whether you are looking for a new addition to an urban space, rural play area, school playground, elder center, or tourist attraction.  Several companies have a range of funky instruments to create soundscapes in outdoor areas.
Outdoor Percussion Instruments in a Park in Durango CO

Outdoor Percussion Instruments in a Park in Durango CO

  • Play Art:  Studies have shown that a child’s early participation and education in the arts are important in establishing arts-related activities as an adult. Behavioral researchers have also found that both appreciation for and understanding of the arts are related to the environment in which artwork is presented. A playground provides a welcome environment for art, comfortable in its familiarity. Combining art and play brings art within the context of everyday life, demystifying but not devaluing art. Playgrounds are under-recognized as an artistic medium.
This Artistic Spider Adds Mirth to a Playground near Blanding UT

This Artistic Spider Adds Mirth to a Playground near Blanding UT

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Anthropocene: An Strong Warning

By Justin Worland, Time (12-19 Sep 2016

As geological epochs have come and gone throughout Earth’s vast history, shifts have often correlated with large-scale global changes like ice ages and mass extinctions.  An asteroid hits the planet, wiping out the dinosaurs, and the Cretaceous period becomes the Tertiary.  Until now, life on Earth–including us late-arriving Homo sapiens–was along for the ride.  But on Aug 29, some scientists at a meeting of the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) in South Africa said human activity has grown so powerful that is is forcing a change of the geological calendar:  Earth has entered a new epoch, called the Anthropocene, defined by humans and our effect on the planet.

Divisions of Geological Periods

Divisions of Geological Periods

for 12,000 years, we lived through an epoch known as the Holocene, which provided a stable and relatively warm climate that allowed humans to develop everything from agriculture to atomic power.  But that success remade the planet we live on through widespread deforestation, overfishing of the oceans, the extinction of countless species and the altering of the planet’s climate through the emission of greenhouse gases.  Most telling is the spread of radioactive material across Earth since 1950 as a result of the testing of nuclear bombs.  Humans brought an end to the Holocene quickly–no other geological epoch lasted fewer that several million years.

Paul Crutzen, Dutch Nobel-Prizing-Winning Atmospheric Chemist

Paul Crutzen, Dutch Nobel-Prizing-Winning Atmospheric Chemist

The IUGS gets the final vote on the geological calendar, and while scientists in its working group on the Anthropocene overwhelmingly recommended the new designation at the South Africa meeting, it has yet to be confirmed.  But momentum has been building behind the Anthropocene for some time.  Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, first described this human-influenced era more than a decade ago with a focus on climate change.  The downside of human influence should be obvious–we’re not just changing our planet but destroying it.  Yet there’s a silver lining.  If we are powerful enough to cause these problems, we might also solve them.  “Unless there is a global catastrophe,” Crutzen wrote in the journal Nature, “mankind will remain a major environmental force for many millennia.  A daunting task lies ahead.”

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Eastern Gorillas Are Now on the Critically Endangered List

By Caleb Jones, The Associated Press [1]

The world’s largest living primate has been listed as critically endangered, making 4 of the 6 great ape species only one step away from extinction, according to a report released Sunday at the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii.

An Eastern (or Mountain) Gorilla Enjoying the Leaves in Southern Uganda

An Eastern (or Mountain) Gorilla Enjoying the Leaves in Southern Uganda

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, cited illegal hunting in downgrading the status of the eastern gorilla on its Red List of Endangered Species.  The organization said an estimated 5,000 eastern gorillas remain in the wild, a decline of about 70 percent over the past 20 years.

For the gorillas of the Congo, where the majority of the population lives, conservation will be a struggle because of political instability, said primatologist Russell Mittermeier, executive vice chairman of the Conservation International environmental group and chairman of IUCN’s primate group.

“There are no simple solutions right now, other than a much greater investment in on-the-ground protection until the region stabilizes, at which time major ecotourism, as is happening in the neighboring countries of Uganda and Rwanda, can take place,” Mittermeier said in an email to The Associated Press.

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[1]  sltrib.com, 5 Sep 201

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Observing African Wildlife from a Small Fishing Boat

On previous trips to Ugandan national parks, we have observed riverine wildlife from larger tourist boats.  However, on our most recent trip to Murchison Falls National Park, we traveled the Victoria Nile in a small aluminum fishing boat.  This gave us the opportunity to get much closer to the wildlife, perhaps too close.

Larger Tourist Boats Don't Allow for the Close Personal Experience of Smaller Boats

Larger Tourist Boats Don’t Allow for the Close Personal Experience of Small Boats

Our first venture was an evening cruise.  We had arrived too late for our boat trip up to Murchison Falls.  So, we signed up for an evening adventure.  They put us–my daughter-in-law, my granddaughter, a Ugandan friend, and I–in a small boat, instead of a larger vessel.  At first, I was disappointed.  But the smaller boat was perfect.  We saw wildlife up close and personal.  And our guide was wonderful; and we didn’t have to share him with a boatload of tourists.

Water Bucks Eyeing Us from the Shores of the Albert Nile

Water Bucks Eyeing Us from the Shores of the Victoria Nile

The highlight–and conclusion–of the evening trip is observing the hundreds of birds, including herons, cormorants, and egrets, that nightly congregate on 2 small islands in the river.  While heading for this island rookeries, large flocks of egrets flew close to our boat.  As we neared the islands, the squawking intensified.  It was all very impressive, enhanced by a beautiful sunset.

Heron and Cormorants on an Island in the Albert Nile

Heron and Cormorants on an Island in the Victoria Nile

The next day, for our trip to Murchison Falls, we were again put in a small aluminum boat.  This adventure was even more memorable.  We got up close and personal with large crocodiles, hippo colonies, and a wide variety of birds.  Again, the guide was terrific and was an excellent boatman.

Enjoying the Victoria Nile from a Small Fishing Boat

Enjoying the Victoria Nile from a Small Fishing Boat

Large Croc on the Shores of the Albert Nile

Large Croc on the Shores of the Victoria Nile

Hippo Taking a Brief Respite from Its Watery Daytime Home

Hippo Taking a Brief Respite from Its Watery Daytime Home

Near Murchison Falls, our small boat docked and we climbed to the top of falls.

Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls

By all means, if you have a chance to take a small aluminum boat on the Victoria Nile, you should take it.  It is a great adventure; something you don’t get with larger tourist boats.

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African Elephants

This blog has two important missions:

  • highlight the wonders and pleasures of Africa and
  • express concerns over the plight of the earth’s sentient animals, particularly great apes, whales, and elephants.

The political cartoon below appeared on sltrib.com (2 Aug 2016).  It touches forcibly on both missions.  Thank you Pat Bagley.

FullSizeRender (23)

On my numerous trips to Uganda, I’ve had the pleasure of observing elephants in their natural environment, in Queen Elizabeth and Murcheson Falls National Parks.  They are regal and powerful mammals.  But unfortunately, throughout Africa their numbers are declining, due principally to pouching and habit loss.  More needs to be done to protect these sentient animals.

Elephant on a stroll in Murcheson Falls National Park

Elephant on a stroll in Murcheson Falls National Park

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More Playground Equipment for Uganda

During a recent trip to Uganda, my progeny and I installed and delivered quite a bit of playground equipment at isolated and poorer locales throughout the country.

Swing Set Installed at a Small School near Kampala

Swing Set Installed at a Small School near Kampala

We installed swing sets at 7 locations:  1 at a school adjacent to Lake Bunyonyi, 2 schools in the Kyarumba area (near Kasese), 1 at an LDS chapel in Gulu, 1 at a small school near Kampala, 1 at a village school near Lake Victory (south of Masaka), and 1 at a school near Masaka.  The latter was a tire swing.  Additionally, we left the equipment to construct a 3rd swing set in the Kyarumba area.

Tire Swing Installed south of Masaka

Tire Swing Installed south of Masaka

School Kids Enjoying a Tire Swing Set

School Kids Enjoying a Tire Swing Set

The swing set locations in the Kyarumba area are moving higher and higher into the Rwenzori Mountains (aka Mountains of the Moon).  One of the swing sets we constructed on this trip was only accessible by motorbike.  The school kids helped carry the swing set parts from staging area to site, located several kilometers above Kyarumba.  Because of the steepness of the terrain, quite a bit of land leveling had to done before the swing installation could begin.  The local support was great.  The schoolmaster hopes the playground equipment will be a kid magnet, encouraging the mountain kids to attend school.  Proposed future locations are even more remote.

We also installed climbing towers at 3 locations:  2 at school locations around Masaka and 1 at a school near Kampala.  Two of the towers are made entirely of metal pipe, and 1 is made of metal and used tires.

Tire Climbing Tower Installed at a School Near Masaka

Tire Climbing Tower and Monkey Ring Apparatus Installed at a School Near Masaka

Additionally, we tried out a new design for a monkey ring apparatus.  This was installed at a school in the Masaka area.

In addition to installing new equipment, we also added to and repaired existing equipment.  We repaired swing seats and chain at 2 sites in the Gulu area, 1 in the Kampala area, and 1 in the Masaka area.  The swing repair in Kampala was to a swing set constructed by someone else.  We also added a swing seat to an existing swing frame at a location south of Masaka.

Repairing a Swing Set Constructed by Another Group

Repairing a Swing Set Constructed by Another Group

Six months ago, we purchased a playground rocker.  On this trip we purchased 2 more which were delivered to schools in the Masaka area.  Our original rocker had not survived the hard use from the school kids.  We had it repaired.  In the future, we need to either reinforce the prefabbed model or come up with our own design and fabricator.

Playground Rockers at a School South of Masaka

Playground Rockers at a School South of Masaka

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