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A place for everyone

South Clinton Inclusive Park is nearly finished

  • Checking out some of the new equipment installed at the South Clinton Inclusive Playground as its construction nears completion are, from top left, Natalie Erb, Christina McNally and David Erb, who have spearheaded efforts to create and raise money to build the park. Looking out from the top of the slide are Sutton McNally, left, and his sister, McKenna McNally. The park is next to South Clinton Elementary School on Hiway Drive. - Ken Leinart

  • Work is nearing com- pletion on the $500,000 South Clinton Inclusive Park, which is tentatively scheduled to open in late October. The park features playgound equipment that can accommodate all chil- dren, including those with special needs. - Ken Leinart

The dream of a special playground to honor the memory of their daughter Amelia is about to come true for David and Natalie Erb of Norris.

Getting ready to open -- most likely by the end of October -- is the new South Clinton Inclusive Park, a nearly $500,000 project that has the Erbs’ hands all over it.

After their 5-year-old daughter died unexpectedly in her sleep in 2015 from longstanding medical issues, the Erbs began looking for a way to memorialize her.

Amelia struggled with neurological and developmental difficulties her entire short life, but according to her parents, she always had a smile on her face when she could swing.

In 2016, the Erbs founded Milly’s Wings for Swings, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising money for a special playground with equipment designed to accommodate virtually all children, including those with special needs.

Partnering with fundraiser Christina McNally of Clinton, the Erbs connected with the city of Clinton to designate the 30-year-old South Clinton Park on Hiway Drive, next to South Clinton Elementary School, as the site for the inclusive playground.

The city came up with a $75,000 contribution of its own, along with providing the park site, but also worked to get a 50-50 matching grant of $115,000 from the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation.

McNally and the Erbs worked to find private grants and donations to add to the public funds available for the project, finally getting all of the money lined up in time for construction to begin Aug. 29.

Since then, work has progressed rapidly as the contractor for the project, commercial recreation equipment firm Miracle of KY & TN, began grading the land and installing swings, slides, shelters and other elements of the playground.

“It’s unbelievably funny how in the last week and a half, it has just completely blossomed,” said Jason Brown, Clinton’s director of parks and recreation. “It’s really neat what [Miracle owner] Tami Phillips has put together.

“Almost all of the equipment is in the ground,” Brown said. “This week, we’re doing concrete work, putting in gravel and turf. Next week, we’ll pour more concrete and begin putting up the fencing.”

The entire playground between the two parking lots will be fenced, and Brown said he expects all work to be completed within about three weeks.

But the playground probably will be opened for use before the work is completely done, and then a grand opening ceremony will be scheduled when everything is finished, he said.

“It’s going to be hard to keep people out of there once the turf is down,” Brown said, referring to the artificial turf that will be used on top of the ground. “It will be amazing; it’s already a big deal.”

The only equipment still to be installed are the giant musical instruments that are being paid for by the East Tennessee Lions Eye Bank, Natalie Erb said. Designed especially for sight-challenged kids, the instruments include chimes, drums, and a xylophone, she said.

David Erb, an Allstate insurance agent in Clinton, and Natalie Erb, a CPA who is chief financial officer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley in Knoxville, were able to get private grants and donations from such other organizations such as the Lions Clubs International Foundation ($100,000), the Allstate Foundation ($26,000), United Way of Anderson County, and the Christopher and Dana Reed Foundation, they said.

The playground area takes up about a half-acre of the park, which has about two acres total, Brown said. When the city was approached by McNally and the Erbs, the South Clinton site was offered because its playground equipment was old and in need of replacement or upgrading, he said.

“It seemed like the perfect spot,” Brown said. “It’s been a long, drawn-out project. We started in August last year, and began the grant process last October.”

Natalie Erb said the public-private partnership was able to bring in money from both realms to raise enough to pay for the park they wanted to build.

“The neat thing about working with the city is that we could go out and get grants the city couldn’t get,” she said.

Some upgrades were made to the restrooms, as well, Brown said. They are in a building at the rear of the playground.

Once the temporary yellow-tape boundary surrounding the playground area is removed to allow people to enter, the play area will be open daily from dawn to dusk, Brown said. There will be no admissions fees.