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For the kids: Bicycle playground opens at Madison Park in Fargo

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Children check out the brick lizard in the rain during the grand opening of the new bike and skate park Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017, at Madison Park in Fargo. The lizard and a nearby sculptured brick entrance are made up of 5,000 bricks. Dave Wallis / The Forum2 / 3
Boys try skating with muddy shoes down the side of a curved concrete bank of the new bike and skate park Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017, at Madison Park in Fargo. Because of rain and wet surfaces, biking and skating were not encouraged after a grand opening and dedication ceremony. Dave Wallis / The Forum3 / 3

FARGO — Mary Jean Dehne remembers watching the news in 2010, horrified to hear about a fight between two boys at Madison Park in north Fargo. One of the boys was her student.

"He ended up in the emergency room, and I never saw him again," Dehne said.

For Dehne, the incident served as a turning point for the park, which she described back then to be a "drug-infested, violent part of our city."

On Wednesday, Aug. 16, the Fargo Park District, along with the Legacy Children's Foundation and Scheels, held a grand opening for a new bicycle playground, skate park and public art installation at Madison Park. The three amenities were added as part of a project to create a safe environment for children to play.

Dehne is the executive director of the Legacy Children's Foundation, a nonprofit group that supports children in earning high school diplomas. She emphasized in her opening address that the project was for the kids and by the kids.

"It was the kids who boldly stepped out to conquer problems that once flourished," she said.

And it all began with a basketball court.

Peter Saintal, president of the Legacy Children's Foundation, was a teenager in high school when he brought up some problems with Madison Park's court to Dehne, like tree branches around the hoop and loose rocks that made kids slip. She took Saintal to the Fargo Park District office, where they were told that the court would be fixed up.

But Dehne told the district right away that the kids would provide the labor.

"Thanks to Ms. Dehne, my chiropractor and I now know each other on a first-name basis," Saintal joked.

The children using the park were a large part of the project, helping with everything from repainting to moving wood chips as improvements were made.

"You make the kids do the work, and they're going to value it," Saintal said.

As he spoke, kids ran around him, underneath the new large, brick archway sculpture, and up and down the skate ramps. Some played with police officers, while others stood around enjoying ice cream and music.

"Madison is now the best place on earth for kids," Dehne said.

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