August 3, 2008

Accessible Playground Opens at Sedgwick County Park

By Brent D. Wistrom, The Wichita Eagle, Kan.

Aug. 3--Brooke Owens' four children were somewhere in the jungle of slides, swings and sand shovels at Sedgwick County Park Saturday morning. Occasionally, one of them would pop up -- and disappear again.

Cody, 7, spun in childish bliss on a spiraling pole.

Cale, 5, ran up the slide. Then slid down it. Ran up it. Slid down it.

And Brooke stood in the shade with a smile.

She and her kids -- all from Fort Worth -- were among the first to use this new playground at Sedgwick County Park, which opened Saturday.

The kids and parents there -- none of whom had visible disabilities -- hardly noticed that this new playground was built for people with disabilities, though it's open to everyone.

It's a place where a mom can take her wheelchair up to the top of a slide and watch her child zip down, a place where a kid in a wheelchair could wheel up to the edge of a sandlot and make miniature mountains with a sand digger.

The playground is called the Sunrise Boundless Playscape, and it's a project of the Sunrise Charitable Fund, the charitable arm of the Sunrise Rotary Club of West Sedgwick County. At least 15 other businesses and organizations also donated money and time to make it happen.

The playground -- the first of its kind in the state -- has colorful rubber flooring that is soft enough to fall on and hard enough to ride a wheelchair on. It has ramps leading to slides and other play equipment. And it has a large swing that a kid could lie on and experience swinging -- perhaps for the first time.

It also has large umbrella-like shades that spray a fine mist to cool off parents and their kids on hot days.

While the playground is complete, a puppet theater, sound garden and interactive water fountains are also planned.

Pat Gallagher, the project chairwoman, said she just had to open the playground, even though more construction is planned.

"Boy, the children have just been taunted by that fabulous equipment just sitting there," she said.

Warren Bearup, a 36-year-old from Wichita, was lucky enough to notice it was open and he let his 8-year-old daughter, Alexandria, play on it.

"This is N 1 in Wichita, no doubt," he said, comparing it to other playgrounds. "It's beautiful, and I hope it stays beautiful."

Reach Brent D. Wistrom at 316-268-6228 or [email protected]


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