Mansfield News

City OK’s park swings thanks to pint sized lobbyist

Maggie Fortner greets former park board member Donald Barg, the park’s namesake.
Maggie Fortner greets former park board member Donald Barg, the park’s namesake. Photo courtesy

When most kindergarteners sit down to write a letter, the Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus, is usually the recipient. But when Maggie Fortner got out her pencil, the whole City of Mansfield took notice.

"I just love to swing," said Maggie. "All the other parks have swings, and I just thought we should too. So I wanted to tell them."

And tell them she did. Maggie’s adorable letter requesting the addition of a swing set at Donald R. Barg Park, written in pencil and folded a half-dozen times, made its way to Matt Young, the director of parks and recreation for the city, who not only took notice, but action.

"At first, it just made me smile," Young said. "I’m used to citizen feedback, but it’s usually a complaint or request far beyond our budget or scope. This was simple, sweet and something we could actually do. It turned out, she was correct. Barg Park, which is one of our smaller, neighborhood parks, didn’t have any swings. The original plan didn’t include swings due to space concerns, but I asked our current staff to see if they had any ideas. They figured out how to make it work, and from there it was just getting approval from the park board, which wasn’t hard. Who can say no to a six-year-old girl?"

Beth Fortner, Maggie’s mom, was caught off guard when she got the email from Young that the swings had been approved.

"It was quite a surprise to me, since at that point I didn’t even know she’d written the letter at all," she said. "She’d been at the park that day with her grandma, who mailed the letter," "Maggie’s usually a little bit shy and more reserved, so I was a little bit surprise to see she’d taken such initiative, especially as a kindergartener."

With the wheels in motion, there was nothing left for the pint-sized lobbyist and her family to do but wait. Fortner said they don’t mind that part a bit, and are all thrilled with the City of Mansfield’s response.

"We’re all just so thankful the city took the time to listen to a little girl, and then more importantly, took the time to figure out a way to fix the problem and a way to pay for it. I know it couldn’t have been an easy fix, but it means a lot that they did it anyway," she said.

Mayor David Cook said he was pleased to see a one of the city’s youngest citizens taking action to better her community.

"As council members we look forward to hearing the desires of our residents," said Mayor Cook. "And that means hearing from our youngest residents as well. Maggie took the initiative and made a difference in her neighborhood and in her city. That’s pretty special."

After all the months of planning and preparation, the wait was finally over. Maggie, now 7, was the guest of honor at the official city ceremony June 29. Yielding huge scissors almost as tall as she is, Maggie cut the ribbon and welcomed her neighborhood to enjoy the fruits of her labor.

Also in attendance was former park board member Donald Barg, the park’s namesake, who said he was thrilled to see civic involvement at such a young age.

"Many years ago, I was out at a baseball game and made a comment about how the fields could use some improvement," Barg said. "The guy next to me suggested I do something about it, so I did. A few volunteer positions and boards later, I ended up on the MPFDC board for 16 years. But it started just like this, seeing a problem and wanting to help find a solution, so I’m just honored to see that come full circle here today with little Maggie."

Even Mayor Cook seemed impressed with her motivation, saying he is looking forward to watching her run for office.

For Maggie, however, it was never about power or higher political aspirations.

"I’m just really excited for my swing to come, so I can swing on it every day. But I’m going to share, even with my sisters. It’s for everyone."