Cleveland Park playground reopens, 5 years after tragic accident


If ever there were a story of hope emerging from tragedy, it is the story of the Cleveland Park playground in Spartanburg.

The site reopens to the public Saturday, one week before the 5 year anniversary of a deadly children’s train wreck.

It not only pays tribute to the victims, it gives kids a safe place to be kids.

To a child, the new Cleveland Park playground is impressive by its size alone. To an adult, it’s the details: Peach Playhouse, Old Anderson Mill, BMW swing car, are some of the exhibit names.

And as Dwight Easler looks at the rock remembrance garden, it runs deeper.

“We wanted it to be a place where it wasn’t a dark cloud in a park for fun. It is a beautiful picture of how the lord sustains us, he is our rock.”

Easler and his family, have sustained the unthinkable. Their boy Benji died here in a children’s train wreck that also injured 28 others.

Today you’ll find the 6-year-old’s own signature on the playground’s pirate ship.

“Before the accident at some point Benji drew his name up on the white board up in our church youth room, and after the accident the youth would not erase it, so they put plexiglass over that.”

The entrance drawing is inspired by Benji’s own artwork. The playground name, is his quote

“He said I’m going out in the woods for ‘a great adventure’ so they ended up naming it that, so that’s a special thing for us,” said Easler.

For nearly four years the playground area was closed off as the county worked through litigation.

Back in the fall, 2300 volunteers built most of what you see here today. Since then crews have worked hard putting in the flooring, the walkway and all the many finishing touches.

“I can finally walk down here and smile. And I think the people that came down here and worked as volunteers. The people that came down here and worked as volunteers, throughout the process, I think they felt the same way. And I hope that we can just honor Benji and the other people that were on the train that day, by making it a good place again,” said Marcia Murff, with the Spartanburg County Parks Department.

The County and business donors dedicated more than $1 million to the project. The playground opened Saturday, March 12 at 10am.

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