Ahwatukee Foothills resident Tim Nolan was not expecting a casual conversation and a simple idea to take off the way it did, but somehow an entire community came together and built a park in Mesa for absolutely free.

Nolan, president of Arizona Parks and Recreation Association, said he met Marc Heirshberg, director of Mesa Parks and Recreation, at a national conference in October of 2010. At that time Heirshberg mentioned needing a playground in the Golden Hills Community in Mesa. He asked Nolan if he had any tricks for getting a playground built with no funding. It's not something Nolan normally does but he decided to look and see what he could do.

"That really was the infancy of the whole project," Nolan said. "I just wasn't sure at the initial conversation that I was going to have success in rounding up people to donate products and services. Everyone already has a tightened belt these days so I didn't know how many people would be interested in stepping up. It was pretty cool the way so many people did."

Nolan says every group he talked to about donations or volunteering signed up without hesitation. Even people he didn't go to to ask for donations, like the owner of Shade N Net, offered to help. Shade N Net committed to building a shade structure to cover the entire playground.

After a few months, Nolan was able to go back to the city of Mesa and tell them he could build them a park for free.

"Their jaws were just hanging open," Nolan said, adding that there were some obstacles along the way, but nothing seemed to halt the project from going forward.

The attitude of those working on it made it possible to move to plan B and keep going, he said.

On build day in May volunteers from the neighborhood: Arizona Recreation Design, Xccent Play, Mesa Arizona, Shade N Net, IT Partners, Fry's Stores, Foundation for Mesa Parks and Recreation, Crescent Crown, Cox, Mesa Hohokams, Playhard Playground Installations and the Mesa Fire Department came out to help put the playground together.

It took all day but Nolan says it was the most fun project he has worked on.

"When you start off it's just a flat piece of ground and within one day it's a big playground, and you just see this thing evolve," Nolan said. "During the day it's kind of fun because you have a lot of teambuilding. There's people from all different walks of life. There was firemen, high school kids, the mailman. It was really that way. It was white collar, blue collar, you name it, they had this common thread that pulled them together."

Looking back now Nolan is amazed at the generosity of all those he worked with.

"Mark was interviewed after the build and his comment kind of holds true," Nolan said. "He said there was people that basically don't know anything about this community, people that don't live in the community and people who have no reason to be involved in the community. As soon as they were asked they just said ‘I'll do it.'

"I think it was just a lot of nice people that saw a good cause and stepped up. Even in this strained economy there's a lot of good people out there who believe in community."

The Golden Hills Park is located near Sossaman Road and the U.S. 60 in Mesa. It has different playgrounds for various age groups and is the first park in Mesa with its own shade structure.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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