The new Swing High ”universally accessible” playground on the edge of Prospect Lake in Memorial Park, east of downtown, is open.
I went by to see if it really is all that different than other playgrounds.
Most were 5th grade students from Rockrimmon Elementary School, enjoying a picnic. My son, Ben, was among the students. So was his classmate, Abby Farrell.
I left wondering why every playground isn’t built like this one.
As you approach, the play structure, it really doesn’t look much different than other modern playgrounds.
But then you take a closer look and see all the things that make this playground so unique.
I received a tour of the playground from Abby’s mom, Michelle Farrell, who quit her job at the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2006 to raise the $1 million needed to build the playground.
Abby has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair as well as crutches and leg braces to get around.
Abby’s childhood has not included many happy trips to the playground.
Most were frustrating experiences because most playgrounds are virtually inaccessible to her.
Doesn’t matter that they meet requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA.
Typically, playgrounds are surrounded by wood chips, gravel and sand. Might as well build a croc-infest moat if you are in a wheelchair.
And most have stairs. Might as well put razor wire around it.
To find a truly accessible playground for Abby, Michelle had to drive to Aurora or Broomfield or Fort Collins.
Frustrated, Michellel, a former Olympic gymnast, decided to take a plunge into fundraising.
She vaulted herself into the public limelight and began a campaign to raise awareness and money for a playground in Colorado Springs.
Four years and $1 million later, we have a playground where everyone can play. The money came from private donors, Trails, Open Space and Parks funds, Greater Outdoor Colorado or GOCO grants, and generous donations from foundations including El Pomar, the Gates Family and Phil Long dealerships.
And this playground is not just for kids.
Folks at city Parks and Rec say they know of injured military veterans in wheelchairs who are looking forward to playing with their children, climbing to the top of the structure and putting them on the slide.
Although the hardest part is done, Michelle says it’s not quite finished. The nearest parking area remains unpaved. She said it will take $100,000 or more to pave it and create needed handicapped accessible parking spaces.
I’m hoping the money surfaces soon.