Kids slide, swing and swashbuckle at new Swifts Beach playground

May 27, 2023

People in eastern Massachusetts don’t typically pronounce the sound “arr.” 

That changed on Saturday, May 27, when the Swifts Beach Improvement Association held a grand opening ceremony for a new pirate ship-themed playground on Circle Drive.

Kids donned pirate hats and eye patches, and whacked each other with inflatable swords, as they enjoyed the safer, more accessible Joseph W. Conway Memorial Playground. 

“She be a fierce pirate!” Chris Kaulbfleisch said of his 5-year-old daughter, Keegan. 

Chris, who lives in Swifts Beach, brought Keegan and her 3-year-old brother Mac to the grand opening.

“It’s fantastic,” Chris said. “When we first moved here, [the playground] was a little run-down. It wasn’t what it is now. It really brings something to the community. You’ll get to know your neighbors.”

The playground, which took three years to go from idea to reality, is a complete overhaul from the one first built on the site 32 years ago.

“Its time had expired,” said Project Manager Christy Patalano, who served as a liaison between the Swifts Beach Improvement Association and the town during the design and construction process. 

In 2020, 9-year-old Olivia Eckman wrote a letter to Wareham Week about how she and her brother would get splinters using the old playground equipment. 

“I was bored one day and I was sitting with my papa,” said Olivia, now 11, “and I was thinking, ‘Hmm, maybe I should write a letter to the newspaper to get something done about it.’”

That letter inspired Patalano to work for a safer playground in Swifts Beach.

“It feels nice how there’s a bunch of people here, and they play and they get along,” Olivia said.

To build the playground, Patalano had to gain the support of the Open Space Committee, the Community Preservation Committee, the Conservation Commission and the Finance Committee.

The playground cost $250,000 to build, which came from Community Preservation Act funding. Childscapes, a Marshfield-based company, did the actual construction over the course of eight months. 

The playground is now fully accessible to children with disabilities, with ramps and pathways for wheelchair users and specially-designed inclusive swings provided by the United Way.

“Oh my God, it’s amazing,” said Marie Greig, who is on the board of Wareham CORE, a nonprofit focusing on recreation in town. 

Greig is a community access monitor, making sure that all town projects comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Swifts Beach playground has more accessible amenities than federal law requires playgrounds to have. 

“It’s going to be how we treat playgrounds in Wareham from now on,” she said. “It will be the model.” 

Greig said that Wareham CORE is trying “piece by piece” to upgrade the Leonard C. Lopes Memorial Park Playground in Onset and the Oakdale Playground on Apple Street. 

“It’s very heartwarming to see the community come together,” said Claire Smith, whose father is the playground’s namesake. 

Joseph W. Conway was known as “the mayor of Swifts Beach,” becoming a beloved figure in the neighborhood through his work at Voss Real Estate (now LaForce) and his bicycle rental shop. 

“Our house was a magnet for all the kids,” Smith remembered. “We lived in a cottage with no heat, we had a fireplace and a kerosene stove. But when you woke up in the morning, kids were everywhere sleeping in sleeping bags... They loved my father, he guided them.”

Now, Conway’s legacy is being passed on to a new generation of kids. 

“I think it’s a great playground,” said Mason Ecker, 9. “I like the work that went into it.”

Mason likes pirates because they find treasure, but said with regret that he hasn’t found any treasure yet.