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A corner of the fencing that has kept southeast Oak Park families out of their neighborhood park for seven years finally came down on Saturday morning.

Many long-time residents, who returned to Barrie Park last weekend to celebrate the grand opening of a new playground there, remember the area before it became the site of a large-scale environmental cleanup (see sidebar for history). But for some residents, especially young children, the steps they took onto the grounds of Barrie Park Saturday were their first ever.

Here are some of comments from the families, and public officials, who returned to Barrie Park on Saturday.

"Katharine Grayson

• Before last weekend, the last time Sandra Hadley walked in Barrie Park was when she was in labor with her son, Caleb, who's now six years old.

"It's momentous for us. We have mixed emotions, happiness, and sadness at all these years lost. It will be nice to not have to go to Rehm. We're meeting people we've never known and being with neighbors again."

• "It's surreal. The park closed right after we moved, when we thought, look at the lovely sledding hill. We've seen the whole thing. I used to read about it in the paper, but it got so redundant. It's beautiful. I can't wait for the sledding hill to open." "Gail Eisner

• "It doesn't feel real. It's a community building experience. I just can't believe it." "Melissa Elsmo

• "When we first moved, the park made our Christmas card, as an ode to moving to Oak Park"'look at the lovely sledding hill.' Then there was toxic waste bubbling up. This is just great. It's a community we haven't seen." "Stephanie Shaw, Oak Park

• "All of my kids are three and younger, so this is their first time here. It's beyond words." "Amanda Long

• "I have a two-year-old who's extremely chatty. He kept asking when is the gate going to open. Even today, I didn't want to say it would be, because we were so afraid of delays. It's just great." "Stephanie Hartman

• Rob Baren grew up near the park and still lives there.

"It's remarkable seeing all the kids running around who weren't born when this all started. This is the beginning of a long healing process."

• Karen Garbe is a Barrie Park neighbor who also served on the park board for 16 years, starting in 1993.

"This is great for the neighborhood. It's a real symbol that the park is ready to open. It's a neighborhood dream. It's very rewarding."

• Tim Kelly served on the park board for three terms, most recently as president.

"It's like giving birth after eight years. I still remember that first meeting when they really underplayed the testing, said maybe there's nothing under there, don't worry. A few weeks ago, some kids made a poster saying thank you, please open the park. Other than the teachers, these kids weren't even alive [when the park closed]."

• Gary Balling is executive director of the park district.

"I stood on the child's play area and it was just overwhelming. This is more about why I got into the business."

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