It used to be the sky was the limit when describing how far someone ambitious could go in achieving something great. Subtract the sky from the equation and think again: “Madison’s Place” in Woodbury, Minn., is declaring its first park “limitless” and providing an incredible playground not only for young children, but for children who grew up to become adults, meaning the fun never has to stop. According to Dana Millington — who started the Madison Claire Foundation to honor her daughter Madison who passed away at the age of two, from spinal muscular atrophy complications in 2004 — the park accommodates people of all ages.
“I can give you a good example,” Millington said. “The East Ridge High School tennis coach is a Paralympian who suffered a spinal cord injury as a child. He has young children and has not been able to go play with his kids on a playground.
“He said that he and his kids are at Madison’s Place all the time, and he is out playing with his kids on the playground. It is a great place for parents who are disabled to join in with their kids. And grandparents, too — the ramps and rubber surfacing make it easier for them to navigate territory with their grandkids.”
Asked if Madison’s Place was user-friendly to autistic children, Millington answered in the affirmative, listing several sensory play components:
• Cozy Dome — A quiet space for overstimulated kids to take time by themselves or to socialize together.
• Oodles Swing — A large circle swing that hangs from cables and swings back and forth. It is a great sensory piece for kids with autism who like to swing. One can sit or lay on it; it swings with up to six kids.
• Custom sensory tunnel — A unique piece that only Madison’s Place has, the walk-thru tunnel has colored star cutouts that reflect different colors around the tunnel from the sun shining, and it also has other large marbles for touch.
No matter the municipality, there are always going to be residents or visitors who will need additional help with everyday issues: ramps to aid in going up steps or traversing uneven ground; levers to make entering a building easier; blue flashing lights in halls or offices for those who cannot hear a fire alarm; ad infinitum. A growing trend has been putting people first; this in addition to building modifications, has included changing language to be more inclusive, such as morphing “the wheelchair-bound boy,” into a kinder, people-first declaration of, “the boy who uses a wheelchair.”
It’s little wonder then that municipalities have been quietly integrating limitless parks that accept children and adults of all ages and abilities.
Jason Egerstrom, Woodbury communications coordinator, related further details of attaining such a park through the efforts of Dana and Dave Millington who started the Madison Claire Foundation.
“Madison, who used a wheelchair, had two older, able-bodied, active siblings at the time (ages 3 and 5),” said Egerstrom. “When the family went to the park together, Madison was forced to watch from the sidelines as the park structure was not wheelchair-accessible. “After Madison left us, Dana saw a story on the Today Show about a California family raising money for a universal playground. Given her family’s experience, she knew that was exactly what she wanted to do to honor Madison. The Millingtons launched the foundation in 2005,” Egerstrom said.
He added, “Woodbury has been recognized nationally for its extensive parks and trails system. Adding a universal playground to the system — the first of its kind in the Twin Cities east metro area — was simply the right thing to do. When the city began planning to expand its indoor field house at Bielenberg Sports Center, it just made sense to work with Dana in replacing the original 18-year-old BSC playground with an accessible structure.”
The foundation raised $830,000 for the playground through a number of community events and private donations from residents and the business community. The actual cost was approximately $1 million, if including the city’s contributions, which related to site grading, landscaping, etc.
Asked what effect the park had on the community, Egerstrom used one word: Immeasurable.
“Creating a place where kids and adults of all capacities can play together side-by-side and build friendships fits one of the community’s priorities of fostering an inclusive, welcoming community,” said Egerstrom.
It also expanded the versatility of the public, 320-acre athletics complex. Coupled with the accessible splash pad water feature the city constructed adjacent to Madison’s Place during the BSC expansion project, the site now attracts a wider audience of users in addition to thousands of local athletes and their families who use the site year-round. BSC also houses a 90,000-square-foot indoor field house, two indoor ice arenas, an outdoor refrigerated recreational skating rink and 36 outdoor athletic fields.
Fort Wayne, Ind., boasts Taylor’s Dream Boundless Park, which was begun in 2008 by enterprising 11-year-old Taylor Reuille. Reuille, who is able-bodied, realized that her friend, who had a disability, could not join in the park fun like she and the rest of the kids could. It took four years to build, and now the park stands in proud tribute to the thoughtful heart of a child who enabled tangible playtime for all ages and abilities. The park was ranked 21st in the Early Childhood Education Zone’s 2016 Best 50 Playgrounds in America competition.
Ormond Beach, Fla., has worked to make its Ormond Beach Limitless Playground accessible to all, said Stefan Sibley, assistant Leisure Services director.
“We have an extremely supportive administration and have been provided various funding to expand and enhance play throughout Ormond Beach,” said Sibley, who with Leisure Services Director Robert Carolin handles the logistics of bringing accessible play to the municipality.
“As a city, we’ve spent the greater part of the last decade replacing aging equipment with new and inclusive apparatus to better serve our residents,” Sibley said. “The need presented itself close to 15 years ago when a group of parents requested expanded programming for their children with special needs. Realizing, that playground equipment was changing to include children of all abilities, it seemed the right path for our city.”
He added, “Cost-wise, on average, we have found that limitless playgrounds cost close to the same as other playgrounds. We also have several amenities including various sensory items like drums, bells, mirrors, wheels, cogs and much more for children who are autistic.”
Funding for the project came from a matching grant through a local civic organization; the Daytona Beach Racing and Recreational Facilities District funded nearly half the total costs for the playground.
Jeff Beebe, a coach for the city of Ormand Beach and Special Olympics, has a special-needs child and is grateful for the limitless park.
“The park provides opportunities for Allacyn, our daughter, even though she is getting older and just turned 20,” Beebe said. “We remember when the park first opened, and we will still visit the playground because it provides a good opportunity for her. She can explore in a non-restrictive, safe environment and use both physical and mental abilities. Her first choice would be the slides, and she also likes the swings.”
The intent of many limitless playground is also to introduce able-bodied kids to kids with disabilities/special needs to create friendships, “and we are seeing that happen,” Millington said of Madison’s Place.
“You’re seeing the kids with disabilities having independence to maneuver through the playground and play without help from a parent as well as parents playing with their kids. Parents are also bringing their kids to do their sensory OT,” she added. “Almost every one of these inclusive playgrounds has a great story behind how they came to be. Hopefully, we’ll see more being built by the cities instead of the families having to fight for them by raising so much money.”
Sibley said limitless parks enable families with special needs children to have a playground for their enjoyment. Families with both able-bodied and disabled children can play on the same playground, and the location of the playground is centralized enough that special-needs kids from surrounding areas play there as well. In addition, Ormond Beach’s playground is located at the sports complex so special-needs siblings can go to the playground while their siblings participate in sports.
These cool playgrounds are becoming a welcomed trend across the country. No more do kids in wheelchairs, on crutches or with sight or hearing issues have to stand aside while their more able peers laugh and have fun on the monkey bars, the merry-go-rounds, swings, zip lines and slides. The inclusive playground is the great equalizer, and kids and parents couldn’t be happier.
Below are helpful links for inclusive parks:
www.ci.woodbury.mn.us/madison-splace-universal-access-playground www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOJ7pqkiFiY www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyEthbuZoM www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysnYhuvQ94MADISON CLAIRE FOUNDATION:
madisonclairefoundation.org, or contact Dana Millington at email@example.com
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TAYLOR’S DREAM BOUNDLESS PARK IN FORT WAYNE, IND.: