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Red Deer’s historic associations with elk, bison to be highlighted in renovated Waskasoo park

The new play structure will be installed this summer
A wooden elk’s head play structure will be a focal feature of a playground renovation at Waskasoo park in Red Deer. (Contributed artist illustration).

One of Red Deer’s oldest neighbourhoods is being rejuvenated through an influx of young families and children.

So many tots are now living in Waskasoo, a neighbourhood once dominated by seniors, that a new one-of-a-kind nature playground is being planned for to refresh a 70-year-old neighbourhood park at 45th Avenue and 58th Street.

“It’s going to be a fantastic little park,” said Brenda Garrett, a director with the Waskasoo Community Association.

The new playground will evoke pre-settlement conditions of the land: There will be a buried bison skeleton that kids can dig out of the sand, as well as a unique elk’s head climbing apparatus.

The elk has a particular local significance as the word “waskasoo” is derived from the First Nations’ word for “elk.”

Garrett is thrilled to have most of the needed funding lined up for this final phase of a green neighbourhood hub that had community gardens installed in 2016 and a gazebo in 2019.

The Government of Alberta approved a $190,000 Community Facilities Enhancement grant. Red Deer North MLA Adrianna LaGrange called the project “a wonderful stepping stone in the continuation of building community… I am looking forward to taking my grandchildren to the playground in the future.”

Other funds were received from corporate sponsors, as well as the City of Red Deer, Central Alberta Lion’s Club and the community.

John Bouw, President of the Waskasoo Community Association, expressed gratitude for the contributions saying, “The new playground will not only be enjoyed by our community but by all children and families in Red Deer,” Bouw added.

The unique playground, created by an Ontario-based manufacturer, is geared towards younger children as a 2016 study found the Waskasoo neighbourhood of 250 homes and additional apartment units had no public amenities for preschoolers, as well as no real neighbourhood gathering place.

Over the 20 years since Garrett moved to the historic neighbourhood she has seen more young families move into the more affordable homes. A big sea-change was when the former River Glen County school became Gateway Christian School, operated by Red Deer Public Schools. Garrett believes a lot of new families moved in so their kids could walk to school.

When the playground is installed in August and September, younger children will be able to explore the interior of the elk’s head and climb the lower levels. Older siblings and adults will be able to explore the 12-foot ropes strung from taller logs of the elk’s ‘antlers.’

There will also be an open net area and rubber panels for sliding and bouncing. And the interior of the elk’s head will have two wheel-chair accessible entrances and a bench for quiet play.

Nature will be brought into the space through landscaping and winding paths, sad Garrett, who expects additional plantings to be done in the spring of 2024. She noted donations are still being collected, in case the project goes over-budget.

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