The Cambrian

Cayucos residents raise funds to replace playground equipment

When people gather in a refurbished playground near the foot of the Cayucos pier at 11 a.m. Monday, they’ll be celebrating more than the placement of a dedication sign. They’ll also be honoring those who, with stubbornness and determination, helped make it happen.

It’s a skill Cayucans have been honing since the 1998 conservation of a 4-mile-long coastal strip on the north end of town, now called Estero Bluffs State Park. Some of the same people involved in that conservation effort also were part of the push to save the playground and, more recently, in the fundraising campaign to help the county repair the Cayucos Pier.

The playground redo was “a fantastic project, almost completely community driven,” said Curtis Black, deputy director of County Parks. “Folks collected just shy of $50,000.”

The original playground equipment had been in place “since I was a kid,” Cayucos activist Greg Bettencourt said. The swing set was rusty and unsafe, and about three years ago, the county was going to have it removed.

County Parks officials weren’t going to replace the swing set or allow the installation of other play equipment, in part because new structures would have to meet new safety standards, including the ruling that sand wasn’t considered a surface on which children can land safely from equipment higher than four feet tall.

The decision to remove the popular playground triggered a major brouhaha at the County Government Center, Bettencourt said, especially from stubborn members of the Cayucos Lioness Club.

“It was intense,” said Supervisor Bruce Gibson, “a tremendous outpouring” from Cayucos and beyond. Eventually, the Cayucans proved to the county that the generally accepted “safe fall height” of four feet for so-called “manufactured sand” differs from what’s required for beach sand.

“According to people who test safe fall heights of playground surfaces, lo and behold, that fall height for beach sand is 12 feet,” Bettencourt said. Because it’s a different shape, beach sand, offers a somewhat gentler surface on which to land, he said.

With the county’s blessing, the community raised the money to remove, repair and reinstall the swing set, plus another $34,000 to add more equipment to the playground area. There were many other donations.

“The equipment salesman and installer donated three days of time each to finish the playground, local bed-and-breakfast inns provided them free lodging and every restaurant in town comped their meals,” Bettencourt said.