Colten Marks visits Fort Seward all the time when he’s with his mother, Jen Marks, the director of the historical site in Jamestown that was once served by soldiers stationed between 1872 and 1877 to protect railroad construction crews.
But Colten, 8, thinks something pretty big is missing at Fort Seward: playground equipment.
“Some kids use the cannon,” he said, to play, referring to a cannon on display outside.
“A lot of kids are coming up and playing,” he said at the site. “And camping.”
So around Halloween, Colten had an idea to do something about what he thought was a glaring omission at the site.
“That’s when he came up with the whole thing, actually, when he was trick-or-treating,” Jen said. “We were going to ... the (Frontier) Village and he saw their playset and he was like, ‘You know, we need one of those.’ And we talked about how it takes a lot of money and he just kind of came up with it.”
“It” was a Christmas cookie sale, with a goal of raising $1,500.
“Well, I thought that I should get a playground so other kids can play,” Colten said.
Jen said Colten figured out what to do to raise the money.
“He planned what cookies he wanted on there (the cookie trays), what he was going to charge, he helped type up the little flyer, we’ve just kind of let him be in charge of it,” she said.
Jen said the fundraiser flyers were posted at a few businesses and on social media, where it took off.
The fundraiser to buy playground equipment quickly became a family endeavor with the demand for the treats. At least nine people helped, from baking to decorating and delivering, including a neighbor.
“Yes, I’m helping and me and my mom and all my brothers and sisters and my dad is helping,” Colten said earlier in December. “And my grandma and grandpa.”
Thrivent also contributed, helping pay for the cost of some supplies, Jen said. And with that, kuchen was added to sell, prepared by Jen’s parents, Dale and Ann Marks.
The $20 cookie trays featured an array of goodies for the holidays: gingerbread, sugar cookies, peanut butter balls, puppy chow, peanut clusters, fudge, chocolate-dipped decorated pretzels, caramels, peanut butter kiss cookies. A nut-free version was also available for purchase, Jen said.
Jen estimated 40 to 45 hours were being put in each week on the cookie project.
“The decorating really takes the most time and the plating,” she said.
The cookie sales were so successful, in fact, that after meeting the $1,500 goal, the goal was increased to $3,500 in order to purchase more equipment. Colten has ideas about that, too.
“I would like to make it better,” he said, “I want a bigger playground.”
He said he wants a climbing wall, swings and a slide.
“And a trapeze, ‘cause I’m really good with gymnastics,” he said.
Jen said 175 trays and about 40 kuchen had been ordered as of Dec. 14. Dec. 19 was the last day for delivery of the treats.
Colten helped with delivery during the fundraiser, too, wearing a mask and gloves, he said. Included with each tray was a handwritten thank-you note from Colten.
“He’s been a trooper,” Jen said. “I’m really proud of him for coming up with the idea but then following through with it as well.”
Jen said the playground equipment is needed at Fort Seward, where camping was added last year along with more outdoor things for kids to see but not do.
“He’ll be able to get a pretty decent, decent playset with this (money raised),” she said.
She said adding playground equipment has been discussed before.
“I’m just super proud of him,” Jen said. “It was needed up there, my dad’s been on the board for many years and it’s been brought up a few times. So for him to take the initiative to kind of take it into his own hands to make it a reality is, it’s pretty awesome to watch it.”
The goal is to order the equipment by Jan. 1 and to have it installed by the time Fort Seward opens for the season on Memorial Day.
“All of the board members have just been ecstatic (about the playground equipment project) because we’ve known it’s a need,” Jen said. “... so we’re just excited to have another option, another reason for people to come check us out.”
Dale Marks, who is also the chairman of the board at Fort Seward, agreed.
“That is the main purpose (of the playground equipment) to present something up at Fort Seward that would draw some more people up there,” he said. “Kids could play on the playground and run to their heart’s content out there on the wide-open playground, and the adults can view the historical part of Fort Seward and gain some knowledge of our roots.”
He said many people don’t know about Fort Seward and Colten’s playground project could help encourage people to learn more about the historic site. He said he’s glad Colten came up with the idea.
“There’s people that don’t understand why Fort Seward was there and that’s what we do, we present that history and teach the history of our community,” he said.
Jen’s grateful for the community and area support for the fundraiser.
“... our community never ceases to amaze me,” she said. “It’s overwhelming sometimes. They’re definitely teaching him a good lesson that, like anybody can help, it doesn’t matter how old you are.”