Kids' Castle, towering 35 feet above the central Bucks County countryside, is no ordinary assortment of swings and sliding boards.

For more than 15 years, families have flocked to the dramatic eight-story playground, where children wind their way to the top of a wooden mazelike interior and slide their way back to the bottom.

Crossing a drawbridge, they explore a tree house, a ship, and a dragon, and play on slides and swings.

Thousands of those parents and children designed and built the $1 million playground in Doylestown Township, and many thousands more have come from surrounding communities, the Philadelphia area, and across the country.

But now the wooden structure and equipment are wearing out, and it's time for the next generation of parents and children to redesign and rebuild the playground, say organizers of the Save Kids' Castle campaign.

The plan is to replace everything but the iconic facade of the 35-foot castle, which means new designs and $750,000 for materials and equipment.

"This has always been a community initiative," Dawn Byers, a cochair of the original playground committee and strategic adviser for the restoration, said Thursday. "If they want it, they have to step up."

Byers and her husband, Jeff - a son of the founders of the Byers Choice carolers company in Chalfont - stepped up in 1996, when the township was planning a simple playground in Central Park.

"Can't we do better than swings and a climber?" Dawn Byers asked.

Within a year, more than 3,000 children and parents raised $230,000 and designed and built the castle, assisted by playground architect Bob Leathers.

"It was like a barn-raising. It went up in 12 days, plus six days of finishing work," Dawn Byers said. "With the donated wood and supplies, it was nearly a $1 million castle."

Word of the castle spread quickly, with buses of children from schools, summer camps and day-care centers arriving from "everywhere," said Karen Sweeney, township director of parks and recreation.

"We had to designate group days to organize and register them," she said. "We've had more than 10,000 groups, and we've collected $7,500 to $10,000 a year," which helps offset maintenance costs.

Only groups from outside the township are charged admission to the playground, at 425 Wells Rd.

Despite regular maintenance, wear and tear have taken their tolls.

The Save Kids' Castle team has split the work into three phases, starting with a goal of raising $150,000 to gut and rebuild the main structure by June.

Phase II is for the building of adjacent sections, costing $400,000, with the final phase for construction of bathrooms and a snack stand, costing $100,000.

"The lack of bathrooms is the biggest complaint," Byers said.

Also in the plans is replacing the mulched grounds with a rubberized surface, which would cost $100,000.

"The timetable depends on how the money comes in," Byers said.

Pitching in are teenagers who grew up playing at the castle.

A Central Bucks High School West graduate set up the Save Kids' Castle Facebook page and organized the first meeting. Other students are serving on committees.

The campaign has more than 1,100 Facebook followers and about 100 volunteers, including engineers, architects, and builders who are donating their services.

It has raised more than $10,000, and needs to reach $25,000 by Dec. 31 to get a matching grant from the Byers Foundation.

"This is about the new and old [community members] working together to build their vision," Byers said. "What does the new generation want the Kids' Castle to be?"

Children are invited to tell Santa their wishes for the new castle from 9:30 a.m. to noon next Saturday, at the playground.

"They can bring drawings," Byers said, "and coins to drop in a bucket to help save Kids' Castle."

For information about Kids' Castle, go to http://savekidscastle.org and the Doylestown Township website, www.doylestownrec.com/info/facilities/details.aspx?FacilityID=12833.

Contact Bill Reed
at 215-801-2964, wreed@philly.com, or follow @breedbucks on Twitter. Read his blog, "BucksInq," at www.philly.com/bucksinq.