It is rumored that when James Barrie first brought the play Peter Pan to London theaters, he placed children in the audience so that, through their reactions, they might help adult audience members find their way to Neverland. Somehow the Eagle’s Nest playground evokes this same notion. Only through the imagination of a child could such a magical land have been dreamt. But, be that as it may, only through the hands of many many adults could it have been built.
For five days in 1987 the town of Essex came together to build what was to become the beloved town playground, Eagle’s Nest. Under the guidance of plans by architect Robert Leathers, and amidst an epic nor’easter, local skilled and unskilled workers arrived ready to tackle the enormous project. The evening before work began, a truck traveled through town collecting all of the donated power and hand tools. In the morning, groups were organized into projects — everyone was given a job. Bonnie Bradford, an Essex resident, remembers a lovely young woman pushing a wheelbarrow in white gloves. Volunteers cooked breakfast, lunch, dinner and brewed a constant supply of hot coffee for the tired and soaked crew. Local high schoolers volunteered for childcare. Younger kids helped out in any way they could. Images from a photo album created, and thankfully saved, by Dawn Burnham clearly shows the tireless yet utterly joyful effort put forth by everyone. On the two worst days of rain, over 200 community members volunteered.
Due to the relentless storm each section of the playground had to be tarped. Dawn Burnham explained that this necessity ended up hiding the entire structure until the very end, when the tarps were finally pulled back and the enchanting world they had built was revealed. The final touch was the enormous eagle head carved and donated by Essex resident Bob Brophy, a nationally known carver. To celebrate their achievement, at the final dinner an enormous cake was baked simply stating: “We did it.”
And for 33 years the community of Essex has enjoyed this wondrous space where kids play, parents meet, and friendships grow. That is, until this past Friday afternoon, when the Eagle’s Nest playground was taken down. The aging structure had been deemed both unsafe and unsalvageable. And while it is undeniably sad, plans for a new community playground hope to continue in the unique spirit of its predecessor.
Jess Yurwitz, working group co-facilitator explains, “Eagle’s Nest is an important gathering space for all members of our community. During the day it will be a safe and exciting place for elementary students to play. In the evening and on weekends it becomes a space for families to play hide and seek, for kids to catch frogs or learn to ride a bike.” She goes on to share that, just as in 1987, the Eagle’s Nest rebuild provides the opportunity to weave together different generations and groups of people from our community in new ways to make the fabric of our community stronger. We can all look forward to seeing the new incarnation of Eagle’s Nest in spring/summer of 2021.