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Kids Kastle picket pickup spurs memories of good times at Hoffer Park

By Dan Miller

Posted 5/8/19

Maybe it wasn’t Pickett’s Charge.

But there was definitely a steady stream of folks coming to Hoffer Park to retrieve their pickets from the Kids Kastle playground during three days …

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Kids Kastle picket pickup spurs memories of good times at Hoffer Park


Maybe it wasn’t Pickett’s Charge.

But there was definitely a steady stream of folks coming to Hoffer Park to retrieve their pickets from the Kids Kastle playground during three days last week.

Middletown borough provided the opportunity for people whose pickets have been part of the playground since it opened in 1993 to remove their pickets from the structure, and take the pickets with them.

In 1992, people paid $25 to have their names inscribed on a picket. The money was used to pay for building the playground, and the pickets themselves made up the wooden fence surrounding Kids Kastle for nearly 26 years.

“They didn’t mean for them to come out,” Brandon Bower said while using a drill to unscrew one of the pickets from the fence on April 30, the first day the borough invited people to come in and retrieve their pickets.

Many, like Bower, succeeded in getting their pickets out on their own. In other cases borough staff lent a helping hand, or did the job entirely.

It was a warm, sunny day. After retrieving their own pickets, a number of people could be seen slowly making their way around the entire Kids Kastle fence, taking stock of all the names of all the people and organizations that helped build the playground back in 1992.

In some cases, people had to search and search for all the pickets that were theirs. Or they couldn’t remember how many they had.

“We knew we had one. I didn’t know we had four,” said Melody Wilson, who before retrieving her own pickets presented a $5,000 check on behalf of Middletown Kiwanis to Mayor James H. Curry III.

The donation will go toward Little Middletown, the new playground the borough is planning to replace Kids Kastle.

The borough closed Kids Kastle in June 2018, after receiving a report from consultants that detailed numerous safety issues with the playground. The playground had a life expectancy of 25 to 30 years, according to Middletown Public Works Director Greg Wilsbach.

Little Middletown has a total estimated cost of $924,205. The borough has applied to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for a 50 percent matching grant to pay for the playground.

The $5,000 donation from Kiwanis will help cover cash the borough needs to put up to qualify for the DCNR grant.

The picket Bower was working to free was one of at least six the family had purchased to held build Kids Kastle, said Darryl Bower, Brandon’s father.

That is, unless Bower’s wife Renai could find more.

“I got to go around here some more,” Renai said, circling the fence one more time to make sure the family wasn’t leaving any memories behind.

Like other Middletown residents, the Bower family had bought multiple pickets to represent each member of the clan.

The Bower children grew up playing in Kids Kastle. Their kids always enjoyed walking around the playground, and finding the pickets that had their names on them, Renai said.

“It was for a good cause,” Darryl recalled. “My mother is a Middletown graduate, myself and my two brothers also graduated from Middletown, and my uncle graduated from Middletown as well.”

Darryl Bower said the family doesn’t know yet what they will do with the pickets.

“We haven’t thought that far in advance,” but the pickets will be preserved in some fashion, he said.

The borough had people who came for their pickets sign a waiver, to protect the borough liability-wise in case anyone got hurt while dislodging their picket. No one was injured, as far as the borough is aware, Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter told the Press & Journal.

The borough counted 147 people coming to get their pickets during the three days, Klinepeter said.

A total of 302 pickets were retrieved. As with the Bower family, in many cases one person or family was there to retrieve multiple pickets.

Armed with drill and crowbar, Colton Smith dislodged about 15 pickets for his family and extended family.

“My parents, my grandparents, we have other family, an aunt and uncle who were on here, grandkids and (others) like that. We got them all while we were here,” said Colton’s aunt, Lynn Goodling.

When it was all over, Colton, Lynn and other members of the family sat together on a swing facing Kids Kastle, reminiscing.

“My sister and I and my cousin Kim and her family were all involved with the building of it and doing fundraisers for it, and being here for a whole week and seeing it come together. We spent many hours here,” Goodling said. “Some good memories. Real good memories.”

There are still about 500 pickets at Kids Kastle left to be retrieved.

The borough will keep the remaining pickets for about two months, so that people can pick them up.

Klinepeter said people who have not yet retrieved their picket should call the borough office ahead of time at 717-902-0706 during normal business hours, to make arrangements for pickup.

The borough hasn’t said what will happen to any remaining pickets that are not recovered by their rightful owners. Curry has said that none of the pickets will be destroyed.

The borough will move forward to complete the demolition and removal of Kids Kastle, although specifics have not been announced.

DCNR is to announce in October or November if the borough has been awarded the grant. Under terms of the DCNR grant, work on building the new playground could begin by spring 2020, after the project is put out for competitive bidding to award contracts.