This new shade structure at the playground on Portland’s Eastern Prom is designed to promote sun safety and skin cancer awareness. Kate Irish Collins / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — With skin cancer the most common form of cancer in the U.S., a local dermatology practice donated funds to erect a shade structure at the playground on the Eastern Promenade.

“It only takes one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence to nearly double a person’s chance of developing melanoma later in life,” said Dr. Rachel Gormley of Dermatology Associates. “More and more we are appreciating the importance of starting skin cancer prevention efforts in our very youngest patients. With the gift of this shade structure we hope we can make it easier for kids in our community to play safely.”

The structure was dedicated July 13, just in time for last weekend’s heat wave.

Dr. Rachel Gormley, right, with her son Emmett, played a key role in erecting a new shade structure at the Eastern Prom playground. With her at the July 13 ribbon cutting is Dr. Suzanne Olbricht, immediate past president of the American Academy of Dermatology. American Academy of Dermatology

Funding for the structure was passed through by the American Academy of Dermatology’s Adopt-A-Shade program, according to Sally DeLuca, director of the city’s Parks, Recreation & Facilities Department.

“The shade structure (at the) playground will protect hundreds of children each day from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays,” DeLuca said in a press release. “We know it will serve as welcome relief to the hot summer sun for the many kids and their families who enjoy this playground.”

Along with providing protection from the sun, Gormley said it’s her hope the structure will spark discussions between parents and kids about the importance of sun safety, including the need to wear sunscreen and protective clothing, and staying out of the sun during specific hours of the day. A sign has also been put up at the shade structure that provides key information.

“I’ve been bringing my own children to the Eastern Prom playground for years,” Gormley said this week. “I remember coming when my littlest baby was still less than 6 months and too young for sunscreen. There was so little shade that we would huddle under a small group of shrubs, trying to keep cool and sheltered while keeping an eye on my older toddler as he played.”

As her children got older, she said, she “continued to see a lot of young families, nursing moms, and infants, struggling to find shade while enjoying this beautiful play space. It is our hope that with the addition of this shade structure, families, including the very littlest babies, can enjoy this beautiful spot with some protection from the sun.”

Gormley said it’s important to think about sun protection when children are very young.

“We know that a lot of the sun damage that contributes to skin cancer risk happens in childhood, (so) it’s important to get the conversation started with kids and families about skin cancer prevention (early on),” she said.

In her own family, Gormley said, “we all wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher. I prefer sunscreens containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide (and) we reapply at least every two hours, even on cloudy days.”

She said putting sunscreen on her sons, now 2 and 4, is only part of her sun safety strategy.

“If possible, we avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and plan indoor activities, or seek shade under trees or a beach umbrella,” Gormley said.

She said the city was extremely receptive to the idea of donating a shade structure and the parks and recreation staff immediately identified the playground at the Eastern Prom as the ideal location.

“Apparently, years ago there had been a shade structure, which corroded away over time in the salt air. The team at parks and recreation was extremely eager to get started on this project and took the lead on all the logistics,” Gormley said.

Alex Marshall, the city’s interim parks director, said the shade structure was manufactured by Superior Recreational Products in Georgia and supplied by Premier Park & Play in Watertown, Massachusetts. He said the city also worked with Seaside Landscaping & Excavation to install the footings and posts for the structure, and city staff installed the awning.

“I think it has been well received,” Marshall said this week. “The structure is an excellent asset to the playground.”

Edited June 24, 2019, to clarify funding of the project.