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Aviation-themed playgrounds are trendingAviation-themed playgrounds are trending

Kids love watching airplanes fly, but airports are not always kid spectator friendly. A group of officials who have bridged that gap by establishing aviation-themed play areas at their airports took the stage at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to share pointers on how to bring fun to the flight line.

The youth park,front left, at Bremerton National Airport opened just prior to the 2016 AOPA regional fly-in at Bremerton, Washington. Photo by David Tulis.

The presentation titled Inspire Aviation’s Future With Play was delivered by airport representatives from South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington State, with a bow to a similar effort in Massachusetts.

“Airport aviation-themed outdoor play areas provide unique paths to fun and education, engaging teachers, parents, and youth while creating a sense of appreciation for local airports," EAA wrote in the program preview.

"Three airports share how this initiative addresses aviation’s challenges by appealing to and making advocates in the community. This important outreach effort taps into a future reserve of pilots, aviation professionals, and enthusiasts. With vision and success, these airports spark the dream of flight." A video helped make the message and mission clear.

More than 15,000 people are estimated to visit Runway Park at Greenville Downtown Airport in Greenville, South Carolina, each year. That’s a giant leap since 2010, when AOPA reported how the airport director, Joseph Frasher, worked with Lara Kaufmann, a nonpilot mom of two young sons, to find a way to make the airport an everyday destination for the community.

Greenville Downtown Airport Associate Director Lara Kaufmann advocated for an aviation-themed playground at her hometown airport. Photo by David Tulis.

Kaufmann’s solo advocacy campaign highlighted her skills as an airport spokesperson and public liaison—and made her a featured speaker at the EAA presentation. Now serving as Greenville Downtown Airport’s associate director, the journalism major’s project has put Runway Park in the travel limelight, rated by as one of the best things to do in Greenville.

Frasher and Warren Hendrickson, manager of Washington State’s Bremerton National Airport and formerly AOPA’s Northwest Mountain regional manager, spoke on topics related to the business side of establishing airport recreational facilities.

Land-use and permitting questions can become impediments to enacting nontraditional endeavors like building an amusement/education venue at a public airport. Hendrickson was joined by Stephanie Johnson, whose organization Rappahannock Aviation Outreach raised funds and worked with a local EAA chapter to establish an aviation playground and picnic area at Stafford Regional Airport in Virginia, to discuss the approval process and how some roadblocks Johnson encountered in Stafford produced “precedent-setting national level guidance” from the FAA.

It’s clear that once airports come on board to carve out spaces where community members can come to enjoy and learn from aviation, they take pride in what has been achieved—and want the word to get around.

New Bedford Regional Airport on the Massachusetts shoreline named its playground after Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Rodriguez, a 19-year-old Marine Corps engineer from nearby Fairhaven, who was killed in combat in Afghanistan.

According to the playground’s page on the airport’s website, the facility “sits along the airport fence, with dedicated parking, providing a one-of-a-kind experience for visitors,” and was “moved from concept to reality thanks to the tireless efforts of the Atlantic Aviators organization,” based at the field.

Greenville Downtown Airport director Joe Frasher and Lara Kaufmann, right, helped establish an aviation-themed playground at the South Carolina airfield. Photo by David Tulis.
Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Airport, Aviation Organizations, People

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