Plans for Annie's Playground are coming together

Legacy: A concert and other fund-raisers help finance the play area dedicated to a Jarrettsville girl killed by a drunken driver.

February 20, 2005|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Annie Cumpston was only 6 years old when she was struck and killed by a drunken driver while leaving the circus in Baltimore with her family in March 2003.

But the little girl from Jarrettsville is leaving a powerful legacy in the form of a playground that's being built in Fallston entirely through the efforts and donations of volunteers. Annie's Playground, as it will be known, will be one of the largest playgrounds in the state.

Designed by Leathers & Associates of Ithaca, N.Y., it will cover 60,000 square feet, and will have a treehouse and an amphitheater where children can put on shows.

The playground will also feature an enclosed structure where kids can play house, climb a rock wall and slide down the tongue of a dragon. There will also be a memorial garden for Annie and other children who have been lost to illness or accidents.

The playground is scheduled to be built from Sept. 21 to Oct. 2 with the help of 2,000 to 3,000 volunteers. The nonprofit Annie McGann Cumpston Playground Foundation has raised more than half of the $400,000 needed for the project, said Sharon Perfetti, who is in charge of the project.

The most recent fund-raising effort, a concert held at Recher Theatre in Towson on Feb. 13, raised about $10,500. Tickets were $10.

"It's just absolutely amazing and overwhelming," said Annie's father, Tom Cumpston, who tried to hold back tears as he spoke. "As hard as it is to be part of the events, it's kind of rehashing the situation, we just know the end result is going to be worth it for Annie. Her legacy and life were really and truly not wasted in the short amount of time she was with us."

When Perfetti, a longtime close friend of the Cumpstons, volunteered to organize the playground, she had no idea how much work it would be, she said. She estimates she spends five or six hours a day on it, and she said she's not the only one.

The foundation has five members: Anne Askey, Kelly Haggerty, Sallie Otenasek, Lucy Lutche and Perfetti. There are about a dozen very active volunteers, Perfetti said, and "from there it goes into the hundreds and ultimately thousands."

One person who has made a big difference is Perfetti's neighbor, Jim Hunter, the announcer for the Baltimore Orioles.

"We were having a barbecue at my house and I said to Sharon, `You know what would be fun? To have a concert,' " Hunter said.

He didn't know how to organize such an event, so he called his friend, Stash, a disc jockey on 98 Rock, and the two worked together to make the concert a reality.

They recruited the musicians, who played for free. The Kelly Bell Band, Voodoo Blue, 7-Days Torn, Second Self, Fifth Avenue, Kim Hall and Jodi Harmon all donated their talents.

"Basically, it was just the thought of trying to do something a little different, just to reach more people and bring more people in," Hunter said

He also got Orioles players to sign two home-game jerseys with "Annie" lettered on the back and the number 6, her age when she was killed. One shirt was given to the Cumpstons, and the other is being auctioned on eBay through Thursday.

The idea for the playground began with several families who know the Cumpstons. Immediately after the accident, donations began to pour into Annie's school, St. Margaret's Roman Catholic Church in Bel Air. "The family originally thought they'd buy a bench," Perfetti said. But as more money came in, the idea of a playground took hold.

About a year ago, the group approached Arden McClune, chief of capital planning and development for the county's Department of Recreation and Parks. She suggested the 241-acre former Edgeley Grove Farm in Fallston, which the county had purchased in 2000. Plans were under way to develop the property as a mix of sports fields and other recreational resources, so the playground was a good fit.

"This is a very good place for it," McClune said. "It's a lovely piece of property. It's easy for a large number of people to get to."

The county is creating a parking lot and a pad site for the playground, McClune said, and is applying for state money to create a spur off the Maryland and Pennsylvania trail that will lead to the park and playground.

"It's all coordinating very well," McClune said. "It will be a stupendous facility. A real destination facility." When the playground is finished, its value could top $3 million, Perfetti said. But to the Cumpston family, and all the children who play there, it will be priceless.

"I know when it's done it's going to be a really special place," Tom Cumpston said. "I feel she's going to be there."

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