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Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park, Belmont, N.C.

By Michael Miyamoto, LASN


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The principals of Asheville Playgrounds don't mind being different when it comes to designing and building playgrounds. In fact, they prefer it. Their creations are atypical play structures because they are mostly made of a material not usually seen in most play equipment -- natural wood. One of their latest projects was assembled at the Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park in Belmont, N.C.


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Truckloads of pre-built pressure treated decks, pallets of trimmed "twigs" and other materials are required for all of the company's play structures, deliveries that usually attract lots of stares and questioning looks from bystanders. That was the case at this site, said Evelyn Anderson and Jerry Hajek, co-owners of the firm. Scott Mcfarlane is their lead carpenter.


Instead of building playgrounds with metal, plastic and other traditional materials, the principals of Asheville Playgrounds prefer to go an unconventional route - their finished products are comprised almost exclusively of natural wood.

Based in Asheville, N.C., the company's playground models are becoming increasingly popular. For example, take a look at one of their most recent developments - the playground in the Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park in Belmont, N.C.

The client was the city of Belmont, a suburban community in Gaston County, located in the central part of North Carolina, and the playground was built there in March-April 2016.

City officials preferred a natural style playground, and the company presented three different designs at various costs. The city chose one of the builder's ADA-ramped designs.

A challenge to this particular project cropped up almost immediately.

"An interesting complexity to the job was that the existing slope of the property that we were given, and which I used to gain height on the decks without using as many ramps as normally would be necessary, turned out to be different once the grading had been done," said Evelyn Anderson, co-owner of the playground design-build company. "So we literally had to redesign some of the ramp work on the fly."

But this wasn't too much of a problem, as ADA ramps were built up to the six-foot height of the deck. That was one of the benefits of being able to work with an old-fashioned material -- wood.

"We're definitely not your typical 'metal and plastic' assembly, and we're proud of the fact that we offer clients our vision of a natural playground," said Jerry Hajek, also a co-owner, who considers all of the company's creations "hybrids."

The playground company is small, with Scott Macfarlane as the lead carpenter. The three of them completed the woodworking, construction and installation of the Loftin Park playground themselves.

The trio design and build custom, handcrafted playgrounds and tree houses for parks, schools, churches and homes. Its specialty is rustic, natural playgrounds for residential or commercial use.

A dedication ceremony for the Kevin Loftin Park playground was staged in July, and the co-owners of the design-build firm then left for three months to construct a similar project in Land O' Lakes, Fla., near Tampa.


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The decks, ramps and stairs were built beforehand in the company's shop and later transported to the site. But everything else was constructed at the park. The design-builder uses locust for the support posts, wood that is not straight like conventional dimensional lumber.


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The company buys the locust in western North Carolina, and has several sources that cut and provide the tree trunks. All the posts and handrail tops are locust. The rustic pickets, made of mountain laurel and rhododendron branches, are all placed by hand. In addition to natural wood, the design-build company used some pressure-treated lumber, recycled plastic lumber and composite decking.


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Each locust post is peeled by hand and sanded to a smooth finish. The locust and the pickets are not treated. The locust is naturally rot resistant, even in soil contact, and the laurel and rhododendron pickets are rot resistant when they are not in contact with soil. Engineered wood fiber mulch was used for the surface, and 9"-high FunTimbers was installed for the mulch border.


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The design-builder constructed a log climber, swing beams and log benches from locust. The play structure also features plastic slides and metal climbers from Superior Recreational Products; and the "XBeam 3" and two-child "Rock 'n' Rider."


They will return there under contract in 2017 to install two more playgrounds for the Bexley subdivision by Newland Communities, so their work level is certainly picking up, as well as their reputation. This is their second contract with Newland Communities. The first was a bit closer, in Wendell, N.C., just east of Raleigh, completed in 2015. The company prefers to do its projects within 750 miles of its headquarters.

When they arrive at job sites with trucks loaded down with a slew of logs and wood products, they usually attract raised eyebrows and lots of questioning looks from bewildered general contractors and other bystanders.

It was no different when they showed up in Belmont, located about 15 miles west of Charlotte and nine miles east of Gastonia. Belmont has about 10,076 people, according to the 2010 Census, each of their creations usually require a great deal of handwork at each site, and it took the design-builders about 6-7 weeks to complete the Belmont project.

The city of Belmont is happy with the result.

"We have had such great reviews on the playground, and I am so pleased with the outcome of the project," said Reba Edwards, director of the parks and recreation department for the city of Belmont. "Working with the design-build firm was one of the best experiences I have had with any playground contractor. I think this is an amenity that is certainly going to enhance the ability to grow the river district. It appeals to individuals of all ages and lifestyles."

Nestled in the southern Piedmont region of North Carolina, the town of Belmont is flanked by two rivers, the Catawba River and its right tributary, the South Fork Catawba River. Adjacent to Belmont, the rivers make up two arms of Lake Wylie and form a peninsula on which the city is situated.

The city was once known as Garibaldi Station, and the name change to Belmont is disputed. Some say it was renamed for a prominent New York banker, August Belmont. Others contend that Bishop Leo Haid, who founded Belmont Abbey in 1876, was the one who suggested the name change to Belmont, which means "beautiful mountain." Belmont Abbey still exists to this day.










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