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McLean Playground A Swinging Success

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By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 4, 2006

By the hundreds every day, parents and children are flocking to Clemyjontri, the McLean playground with the odd name that has become one gi-normous hit since opening last month.

In its first 25 days of operation, the playground has drawn 12,000 visitors -- an average of 475 a day.

At two acres, this field of dreams is 10 times bigger than the typical Fairfax County playground and millions of dollars more expensive. Yet for those who have visited it, the crowds -- the 81-space parking lot is overwhelmed -- are a small price to pay for the delights of the spacious facility built on a $900,000 rubberized carpet as soft as a putting green.

Designed for disabled and able-bodied children, the park (pronounced Clem-mee-JOHN-tree) sprawls with brightly colored equipment. More than 20 pieces are innovations, including climbable rainbow arches, a wheelchair-accessible maze and a "helicopter" with ramps, allowing children with physical disabilities to fly into the imaginary skies with more able-bodied companions.

"It's the talk of the town," McLean mom Eve Edwards, 36, said as she waited in the carousel line with her daughters, 4 and 6. "Everyone has been raving about it."

With competing interests, including school renovations and highway widening, it is rare that local governments build new playgrounds, particularly ones this size. But the degree of Clemyjontri's popularity has still surprised county officials, who knew the facility would have to compete with video games and an overscheduled culture of sports teams and taekwondo classes.

"We're victims of our own success," said Supervisor Joan M. DuBois (R-Dranesville), whose district includes the playground.

The playground is attracting families from as far away as Delaware. Through e-mail and neighborhood Web sites, they are spreading the word about Clemyjontri.

The Fairfax County Park Authority has arranged for overflow parking at another park down the street. But for a parent piloting a stroller loaded with baby and toddler, it's a 15-minute trudge from the overflow lot to the playground.

On especially busy days, the narrow shoulders of Georgetown Pike turn into a parking lot. More than 60 sport-utility vehicles and minivans lined both sides of the road on a recent balmy day. One mother hauled a double stroller out of the back of her SUV. Hugging the side of her car as cars swept by just a few feet away, she eased two children out of the back seat.

"Hold on!" she yelled at the kids.

To halt the dangerous practice, the Virginia Department of Transportation agreed last week to install "no parking" signs along the shoulders, but county officials acknowledge that those will only make the parking crunch worse.


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