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A fist pump in the air for approval

Inclusive playground celebrated at Hilltop Park

The Hilltop Park playground officially opens on Bunn Drive. PHOTO BY LEA KAHN/STAFF

With a snip of the blue ribbon by Princeton officials, the renovated Hilltop Park playground on Bunn Drive was ceremonially reopened Oct. 9.

The old playground equipment has been replaced with inclusive playground equipment, which is designed to appeal to – and be used by – children with different abilities, ages and interests.

Welcoming attendees to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Evan Moorhead, the executive director of the Princeton Recreation Department, said the new playground equipment means increased access for all children.

“What better backdrop (for the ceremony) than children playing on the equipment. We are happy it is being made use of,” Moorhead said, as the sounds of children playing were heard in the background.

Meanwhile, a few children sat on the ground near the podium as Moorhead spoke. One boy raised his arm and pumped his fist in the air in a sign of approval.

“Thank you. That is the greatest endorsement,” Moorhead said, without skipping a beat.

Moorhead thanked the Mayor Mark Freda and Princeton Council, the Princeton Recreation Commission and Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros. She is the Princeton Council’s liaison to the Recreation Commission.

In a few brief remarks, Freda praised the municipal staff for its ability to identify a need and “make (a solution) happen.”

The inclusive playground was funded by Mercer County through its “Mercer at Play” matching grant program for municipalities.

Although the new playground equipment has been in place since Sept. 11, Recreation Commission Chairman Andrew Koontz suggested holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“Why a ribbon cutting? We need to celebrate,” Koontz said.

Koontz said he was an elected official for 18 years on the former Princeton Borough Council and on the former Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders, now known as the Mercer County Commission.

“As an elected official, I thought it would be full of moments like this moment. But it doesn’t happen all that often. It takes time and energy – and some frustration – to get something wonderful,” he said.

The Princeton Recreation Department offers many programs to reach the community, and there is a new-found commitment to the population that the inclusive playground serves, Koontz said.

“This is what we should commit to. Our old playgrounds should look like this one,” he said.

Koontz thanked Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes – who was not in attendance – for the adaptive playground. Hughes has had a “transformative impact” on recreation in Mercer County, he said.

Koontz also said it was a proud moment for him when he was able to approve funding for his hometown as a Mercer County elected official.

“This was an excellent use of the money available,” he said.

Pirone Lambros, the Princeton Council liaison to the Recreation Commission, thanked the Department of Public Works and the Recreation Commission for the playground.

“This is the type of thing we need to do more of. (The Mercer at Play grant program) is a wonderful model for the region and New Jersey,” she said.

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