By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Feb 04, 2004 at 5:24 AM

{image1}The park is called "Snail's Crossing" but the metamorphose of the green space is moving at a sailfish's speed.

"We're trying to bring back all aspects of the park's aesthetics," says Riverwest artist, Marina Lee, who is working with dozens of other artists, neighbors and school groups to transform a popular but outdated play spot known as "Baby Park" by this spring.

"My main emphasis is to show everything (in the park) is integrated," says Lee, owner of Big Dreams Forever Gallery (833 E. Burleigh St.)

Lee's vision of integration materializes in the form of a snail, which is abstractly the park's design. The walkways are shaped like a snail's body and create three separate play areas, and the "head" is a round garden. Lee also plans to recruit neighborhood kids, most likely from Escuela de Fratney, to create an artistic antenna.

"The snail's tail design is a quilter's design I interpret to represent our family-based neighborhood, our basic economy and a patchwork community. A snail represents the part of oneself that goes with you always, the part inside, your dreams, your thoughts, your hopes, your love and your compassion," says Lee.

"The park is also a slow-down place," she says. "It's a place to really look at things."

Some of the gaze-worthy "things" are the animal tiles of muralist/designer Glenda Puhek, Mario Constantini's cedar fence and benches, and an impressive collection of mostly donated plants, bushes and trees planted by "tree experts" Vince Bushnell and Paulette Dembowiak.

New play equipment will also be installed, thanks to the generosity of Wesley Miller, a neuromuscular massage therapist who also donated the old equipment. The new play pieces include a large slide, climber, new swings (tall enough for grown ups to enjoy -- yay!), crawl-through tunnels and a balance beam.

"We decided it was more economical to have separate pieces of equipment, so when we need to replace something we can pull out the individual piece rather than one large (connected) group," says Lee, who has one teenaged daughter.

The renovation project was made possible by a city grant, and the Riverwest Neighborhood Association and other community members made group decisions about how to allocate the funds.

"It was important that we got the neighborhood's viewpoint," says Lee, who has lived in Riverwest -- on and off -- for 22 years. "It gives ownership to everyone in the community that way."

Despite the name change, Lee knows the park will probably be referred to as "Baby Park" for a long time. The name originated because it was considered to be the "baby" of a larger park, The Pumping Station, on Chambers and Humboldt, just a block-and-a-half away.

"Maybe the next generation will call it 'Snail's Crossing,'" says Lee.

Although the plans have not been finalized, Lee hopes to involve numerous groups from all of Riverwest's corners, such as Quaker teen groups from the Friends Meeting House, the Holton Youth Center, Escuela de Fratney, Pierce Street and Gaenslin students, and the Peace Action Center. She has already recruited the help of children in COA (Children's Outing Association) playgroups and asked neighbors to submit powerful words for inscription on garden tiles.

Federal regulations require all parks to be accessible to special needs residents and Snail's Crossing will be comfortable for anyone in a wheelchair. It will also feature colorful standing panels that will appeal to the visually impaired.

Garden Park on Locust Street is another plot of land restored by neighbors and is the home of the Riverwest Farmer's Market. Gordon Park, on Locust and Humboldt, was also beautified a couple of years ago.

"I'm getting a lot of credit for this project," says Lee, "but it's not just me. It's a lot of 'musicians' coming together in an orchestrated way."

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.