Kids apparently like making forts out of them; Stassen says straw bales weigh far less than hay bales

    A Crookston resident who has shared his concerns about children’s safety in Castle Park since straw bales were brought to the park as part of an obstacle course for kids to run through has once again brought his concerns to City officials and park stakeholders, saying that kids routinely make forts out of the bales and could be injured or even killed if the bales ever fell on them. This time, the man has also provided an old newspaper clipping of a story of a boy crushed and suffocated to death by a hay bale.

    But, right there, City Administrator Shannon Stassen stresses, is the distinction that must be made. The Castle Park obstacle course, part of its “natural play space,” uses straw bales, not hay bales. While the hay bale that killed the five-year-old boy in the newspaper article weighed 240 pounds, straw bales weigh a fraction of that, Stassen explained.

    After a discussion this week on the subject at the Crookston City Council’s Ways & Means Committee meeting, Stassen said he brought his bathroom scale to Castle Park and weighed himself while not carrying a straw bale, then weighed himself while carrying one. After some simple math, he determined the straw bale weighed 33.9 pounds.

    “We need to make the distinction between hay bales and straw bales, because there’s a big difference; straw bales are much, much lighter,” Stassen said.

    It’s a fact, Parks & Recreation Director Scott Riopelle acknowledged, that kids have a habit of making forts frequently in Castle Park out of the straw bales and anything else in the park they can get their hands on. But, he said, Parks & Rec staff as part of their numerous duties in Crookston’s parks always come by and dismantle the forts. “It doesn’t stop them from stacking them back up again, but we bring them back down,” Riopelle said.

    Some council members said they’re still concerned, however; even a lighter straw bale could injure a small child, they said. But Stassen said there is inherent risk in just about everything, and that he’d like to think that the youngest children who might be at risk of harm from a straw bale would not be in Castle Park without adult supervision. The kids who are making the forts, he added, are in elementary school and are big enough and strong enough to move the straw bales in rather easy fashion.

    When Mayor Wayne Melbye suggested that maybe some “artificial” bales could be used, Stassen said that goes against everything Castle Park is about.

    “Everything there is about playing with natural things,” he said. “I’m not diminishing the tragic story (of the boy killed by a hay bale) one bit, but kids are at risk all the time. They can get hurt on their bike, or crossing the street, or running around and playing. We can’t eliminate every single risk.”

    Plus, Stassen added, the two main stakeholders behind the natural play space in Castle Park, Polk County Public Health and the Crookston Early Childhood Initiative, share a mission that involves keeping kids safe and healthy. “All of the players involved here want nothing but what’s best for kids,” he said. “And they’re all aware of these concerns that have come up for several years, and I’ve spoken to them about it.”

    Riopelle added that the Crookston ECI was very specific in making sure that straw bales were used in the park and not hay bales.

    Everyone agreed to continue to monitor the situation.