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Virginia Park is 'Too Successful'

Word about the remarkable playground at McLean, Va.'s Clemyjontri Park has spread fast, creating traffic jams and overwhelming the facility's 81-spot parking lot.
Photo: G.E. Fielder & Associates

Clemyjontri Park is 10 times bigger than the typical Fairfax County, Va. playground and millions of dollars more expensive. Yet for those who have visited it, the crowds are a small price to pay for a chance to play on a $900,000 rubberized carpet as soft as a moist putting green.

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Embedded in most of the equipment are learning games with geography, time zones, maps and clocks. There are pictures for dyslexic children and patterns for color-blind ones. The educational aspect is a leveler for children of various abilities, said Grace Fielder, a Columbia landscape architect who designed Clemyjontri.

“It allows a child who’s got an incredibly sharp mind who perhaps has physical limitations to be smarter, quicker than the child who has no physical limitations.”

Designed for disabled and able-bodied children, the two-acre park (pronounced Clem-mee-JOHN-tree) sprawls with brightly colored equipment. More than 20 pieces are innovations, including climbable rainbow arches, a wheelchair-accessible maze and a “helicopter” with ramps, allowing children with physical disabilities to fly into the imaginary skies with more able-bodied companions.

“It’s the talk of the town,” McLean mom Eve Edwards, 36, said as she waited in the carousel line with her daughters, 4 and 6. “Everyone has been raving about it.”

With competing interests, including school renovations and highway widening, it is rare that local governments build new playgrounds, particularly ones this size. But the degree of Clemyjontri’s popularity has still surprised county officials, who knew the facility would have to compete with video games and an overscheduled culture of sports teams and taekwondo classes.

The playground is attracting families from as far away as Delaware. Through e-mail and neighborhood Web sites, they are spreading the word about Clemyjontri.

The Fairfax County Park Authority has arranged for overflow parking at another park down the street. But for a parent piloting a stroller loaded with baby and toddler, it’s a 15-minute trudge from the overflow lot to the playground. On especially busy days, the narrow shoulders of Georgetown Pike turn into a parking lot. More than 60 sport-utility vehicles and minivans lined both sides of the road on a recent balmy day.

To halt the dangerous practice, the Virginia Department of Transportation agreed last week to install “no parking” signs along the shoulders, but county officials acknowledge that those will only make the parking crunch worse.

The playground, called Clemy for short, is the brainchild of Adele Lebowitz, who donated her 18-acre McLean estate to the county in 2000 with the proviso that it build a park with access for disabled children.

Developers figure the land would have been worth as much as $30 million, but Lebowitz handed it over to Fairfax for $1. Lebowitz, a widow, lives in her three-story home at the edge of Clemyjontri (the name melds the first names of her four children). “I see the kids coming and going and running around and having a good time, and that’s great,” she said.

After three trips to the park, Catie Brooks, 9, of Arlington has yet to discover the depth of its treasures.

“You can go 20 times and still not find it all,” she said.

Sources: Washington Post,

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December 7, 2019, 3:37 am PDT

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