by Kevin M. Smith

Historically, breweries have found it important to get involved in their communities. There are a variety of causes that craft brewers get involved in – when Barley & Hops was still open, the brewpub often hosted adoption events for the local animal shelter; Idiom raised funds last January for families in Burkittsville who were displace by a fire; Frederick Breweries raised funds for a variety of charities, including Goodwill Industries of Monocacy Valley; many Maryland breweries have come together to produce collaboration beers to benefit the Brewer’s Association of Maryland. And now there’s Checkerspot, collaborating with Ava’s T21 Foundation in Mount Airy in order to raise funds for an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) playground in Mount Airy.

To that end, the Baltimore brewery is producing a beer to help Ava’s T21 Foundation to raise the final funds needed to build the playground. How does a Baltimore brewery get involved in a Mount Airy project?

Enter Amethyst Tymoch, beer slinger at Checkerspot, founder of She’s Crafty, and longtime familiar face in the Maryland craft beer scene. The former Mount Airy resident explained that the playground project started years ago. “I lived in Mount Airy and was a volunteer member of the Recreation and Parks Board,” said Tymoch. “There were fundraisers for various improvement projects that appeased a traditional small town demographic. Winter 2015, After leaving a Basket Bingo Fundraiser early to go meet friends at a local brewery, I developed the concept for a hometown beer festival to attract the younger adult members of the community while show casing Mount Airy to a wider audience. That fall we premiered Beards, Beers and Brats combining the Fall Corn Hole Tournament with a beer garden and beard contest.  We focused fundraising for the Rails to Trails pathway connecting the downtown to Watkins Park.”

Tymoch noted that in the winter of 2016, Mount Airy resident Heather Zujkowski requested that the Mount Airy Rec and Parks board add an ADA swing be to Watkins park for her son, Isaac, who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. “The swing itself wasn’t a problem,” explained Tymoch. However, “making sure there was actual access to the swing and the correct playground base seemed much more involved. I started doing research on ADA playgrounds, layouts [and so forth] and found a lack of equipment in the greater four-county area. [After] reaching out to the playground company, Come Play With Me, doing the swing and looking at other parks, and knowing the beer events in town were in a position to raise funds I asked Pamela Reed and Maggie McKelvey of Ava’s T21 Foundation to sit down and brainstorm a full playground initiative.

“Together we developed the concept and presented to the Parks board for permission to move forward with [developing a] concept for a 15,000 square foot space in Watkins Park. Through the town I wrote a grant for state funds through Project open space asking for $250,000.  Eventually with follow up and resubmission Pamela was able to secure those funds.”

Reed was able to secure $200,000 in grant funds to start construction on phase 1, which breaks ground in the Spring of 2021, “Ava’s T21 Foundation is contributing $75,000 to this phase,” said Reed, who is also a Councilwoman for the town of Mount Airy. “Phase 1 of the playground consists of half the equipment and a pavilion. The equipment is currently on order, and due to arrive in approximately 6 weeks. The equipment will sit in storage this winter, and is scheduled to be installed in the early spring of 2021.  With luck, phase 2 consisting of an amphitheater and the rest of the equipment will be installed in the spring of 2022.”

Sadly, Ms. Zujkowski lost her life last year when she was murdered by her estranged husband. While reports noted that Isaac and his brother have gone to live with their grandmother in Florida, Mount Airy has pressed on with the ADA playground.

The ADA playground will be part of Watkins Park, right off of Route 27. When looking at models for adaptive playgrounds, Tymoch said that they looked at Jake’s Place in Cherry Hill, and another adaptive playground in Deep Creek. “The playground company had done several projects and provided all sorts of brochures and resources from educational builds,” she said. “I also went to the Linwood Center in HoCo and Rock Creek in Frederick to look at their play areas and understand what was successful and what needs were being under served.”

With the onset of CoVID, the quarantine, and the subsequent social distancing, raising funds to complete the playground became difficult. While Tymoch works at the Baltimore-based Checkerspot, she has also worked with plenty of Frederick County breweries on charitable events. Checkerspot’s ties to the town at the eastern edge of Frederick County go deeper than just Tymoch. “Owner Rob Neff – Judy’s Husband – is a Mount Airy Main Street native.  Rob’s dad through his volunteering with the Town and on my beer festivals got me the job with Checkerspot…Rob graduated from South Carroll High School, I graduated Linganore…Mount Airy, the tale of one city to counties.”

The meeting of minds is leading to a Honeysuckle Kolsch, that’s being made with ingredients sourced from the surrounding four counties. According to Tymoch, there will be “Hops from Dark Cloud, honeysuckle from Mount Airy parks, and local honey. The name is Not Another 5K. Pamela and I met planning 5K fundraisers which always include a ‘free’ beer, we joked how every weekend there was another 5k to raise money.

“We will be canning 140 cases and a few kegs for events. Like on the back of a 5K shirt, sponsorships were sold to be featured on the cans.Four-packs and cases will be avaiaallbe for pre-order on the Checkerspot website with a December 3rd can drop at Mount Airy Liquors and Memories Charcoal House. There will be a pop up beer garden with the Kolsch and Checkerspot at the Bank and Brews [as well]. For pre-orders 30 percent of sales will go directly to the playground. When purchasing at your favorite bottle shop [the playground will still ] see a 15-20% donation.”