Thanks to a converted TriMet bus packed with sports equipment, art supplies and games — but no passengers — Portland Parks and Recreation is taking to the road this summer with enough activities to keep thousands of kids busy.
The lime green Rec 'n Roll Bus is hard to miss with its artwork of bugs, birds and flowers — anything that might be seen in a park. It has become a familiar sight to the kids who visit the 40 playgrounds the bus and three other Parks and Recreation vehicles frequent each week during the summer.
One of the vans — named "Van Go" — makes regular visits at Housing Authority of Portland complexes and is funded by the 2002 parks levy. The mini Rec'n Roll vans visit 20 playgrounds per week.
Last summer's two vehicles — complete with recreation staff members — served 3,700 kids. This summer, the number is expected to increase to 7,400.
"The idea was to go places in Portland that are underserved — meaning that no agency provides children's summer programs," said Joanne Larsell, director of the summer playground on wheels program. "And it just keeps growing. It's wildly popular."
The vehicles are the permanent home for volleyballs, parachutes, hula-hoops, arts and crafts supplies, ever-popular gimp and plaster, board and card games, bubbles and squishy water balls.
The program provides recreation services to children that often are isolated from mainstream recreation programs, due to factors such as geography and transportation.
The playground-on-wheels program began in the summer of 2000 when several parks were annexed to the city from Multnomah County — parks that lacked playground services. At the same time, TriMet donated a bus that was set to retire from the fleet. Seats were removed to make room for the playground paraphernalia. TriMet continues to provide gasoline and maintenance for the bus, and the Amalgamated Transit Union furnishes the driver, who is also a part-time parks employee when he's not at the wheel.
The program's weekly schedule can be found at www.portlandparks.org.