Supplement Feature - April 2011
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Common Grounds

Inclusive Play on the Upswing

By Wynn St. Clair

"We wanted everyone to have a good time so we ended up with a monochromatic blue surface instead," Meeker said. "The whole thing was truly a learning experience for me."

Traffic at the playground was slow during the first month because people didn't understand the park's offerings, Meeker added. Many thought it was only for children with special needs, but they soon learned otherwise. The word is out that it's the best playground in town, so now it's not unusual to have more than 200 kids playing there on a weekend.

"We are just overrun, it is so popular," Meeker said. "The reaction has been unbelievable. It's the kind of park that people visit from all over the southeast and across the nation. It doesn't just serve our area. It gets used by people all over the country."

Recreation officials in Lakeland, Fla., have seen a similar response to their first inclusive playground. The project began after two mothers approached the parks and recreation department to ask for playgrounds their children could actually use. Yes, the existing parks were accessible, but there wasn't much they could do there.

After researching the matter, park officials received permission from the city manager for the project. Approval, however, came with a warning that the city did not have the money for the $1.9 million playground.

"Since that's never stopped us before, we decided to raise the money," said Pam Page, Lakeland's assistant director of parks and recreation.

To help with the financing, the parks department won a $300,000 grant from the state and another $300,000 donation from the local Rotary Club. Still short of their goal, officials came up with a creative—and colorful—way to raise the rest of the funds.

In October 2006, they launched a public art project called "Kaleidoscope," which placed butterfly sculptures throughout the town.

Thirty-five sculptures—with wingspans of 5 feet to 7 feet—dotted the community in an effort to raise awareness and funds for the project. Organizers thought the butterfly motif perfectly complemented a fundraiser for a children's playground.