Mark Adkins sent out the first SOS on Sept. 20. The subject line on the email: Yahara Park destroyed today!
Adkins was dismayed that city workers were at the park that morning digging out playground gravel in order to replace it with shredded rubber from recycled tires.
"Having our babies and toddlers sitting on piles of tires, embedded with shards of steel during our hot summer, is not healthy, fun or right," wrote Adkins, who has a 3-year-old daughter.
By that night, park staffer Charlie Romines had met with neighbors at the park, and Ald. Marsha Rummel was working to slow the process. A group and website were born - the Yahararocks Park Rats (yahararocks.org) - and neighbors performed what Adkins called some "direct action" by filling in the gravel the city dug up.
"It's not exactly tree-sitting or nuclear-reactor protesting, but there was something kinda romantic about shoveling small rocks in the middle of the pesky liberal, yuppie, east-side darkness!" he wrote to a reporter.
The next day Rummel emailed Adkins and other Yahara Park neighbors and included an email from Parks Superintendent Kevin Briski. "We have been installing this rubber for 15-plus years and we have not experienced this type of concern during install," he wrote.
But Briski agreed to hold up installation, and a public meeting on the topic is set for Oct. 12.
City Parks spokeswoman Laura Whitmore says the city has replaced 65 playground surfaces in the city since 1994. It uses shredded rubber to comply with federal safety guidelines and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Wheelchairs can navigate shredded rubber but not pea gravel, and rubber protects against falls, says Whitmore. It also doesn't freeze in the winter.
But Adkins says he has yet to come across any good long-term studies on the safety of the material. And, he adds, "Tires are considered a hazardous toxic waste."
If the pea gravel stays, the slide and swing will have to go. But that doesn't seem to alarm neighbors.
"I am not concerned that we would not have a swing or slide," wrote one on the Yahararocks website. "There is much better equipment to be had. Much of it allows children to use their imagination."