Two Girls Save a Utah Merry-Go-Round

By Rich Kane, Reporter [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.


[1]  24 Sep 2016

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