By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Even as volunteers surrounded the Big Toy with 600 cubic yards of wood chips in 2015, it was never intended to be the permanent solution.

Original plans called for a pour-in-place surface for added safety, but the idea was jettisoned to save money. When the opportunity to apply for an Oregon Parks and Recreation Local Government Grant in 2016 arose, a new play surface for the Big Toy was added to the request along with pedestrian trails and an enclosed bathroom.

The grant was approved, but now thousands of pounds of wood chips have to be removed to make way for the new surface. The city was lucky to find a small army of volunteers in the Keizer Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

“In a lot of settings, people look at Mormons and think we’re off in our own world. This is a way to reach out beyond that perceived wall,” said Dan Kohler, the community engagement coordinator for the Keizer Stake.

The Keizer Stake of the church includes several individual congregations between Salem and Woodburn, and Kohler is hoping, between the church and the community, to turn out about 300 volunteers and remove all the wood chips in a single day.

Volunteers can sign up for shifts at www.justserve.org. Type in the ZIP code “97303” and choose the Big Toy project.

Volunteers are also welcome to show up at the the Big Toy on the day of the chip removal, Saturday, Sept. 9.

Volunteers should wear closed-toe shoes and bring a water bottle. Gloves and hats are also recommended. If you have pitchforks, grain/scoop shovels or wheelbarrows to lend to the effort those are also appreciated.

At a city meeting last month, Keizer Public Works Director Bill Lawyer said compaction was going to be one of the most difficult aspects of the removal, but the city is bringing in tools to loosen the chips before they are carted away. Kohler has also enlisted Douglas Shepherd’s Dirt Work to aid in the effort.

Taking on such a large project is a continuance of work for the Keizer Stake.Each year for the past several years, congregants have directed a day of service to large efforts in nearby communities.

“We’ve found that it’s fostered good relations with our community,” Kohler said. “This is a community effort, not just a Mormon effort. We want to work side-by-side by the community.”

The city, of course, is grateful for any help it can get.

“This means a lot, it saves money and it saves resources. Having a large group step forward and take on a project like this will save the city thousands of dollars,” Lawyer said.

The Big Toy will be closed for about five weeks after the Labor Day weekend to accommodate the removal of the chips and installation of the pour-in-place surface. The timeline may change depending on weather.

The chips removed from the Big Toy site will be used in other Keizer parks.