New Gig Harbor playground will be accessible to everyone

Close to the waterfront, it will feature a fishing boat replica as part of a play structure

Staff writerJanuary 14, 2014 

With its bow pointed toward the water, the newest ship to join the city of Gig Harbor’s inventory is landlocked less than 1,000 feet from the saltwater harbor.

The gray-and-blue fishing replica with bright yellow handrails is part of a larger play structure being added to the City Park at Crescent Creek, located on Vernhardson Street a short distance from the city’s waterfront commercial area.

It’s still under construction, but once the playground opens this spring, it will be the first in the city accessible to children and adults of all abilities.

“ ‘Let’s play together,’ that is our focus,” said Stephanie Payne, who led the effort to build the playground, “and getting families there that have children with disabilities because they need to meet other parents.”

Payne, a member of the city’s parks advisory committee and wife of Councilman Tim Payne, worked with a core group of people who formed the Maritime Playzone Committee to see that the inclusive playground was built.

Payne also helped the effort to build an inclusive playground at Sehmel Homestead Park in the Peninsula Metropolitan Park District in unincorporated Gig Harbor.

“A lot of the moms that are on this committee have kids that have special needs and have kids that are typically developing,” Payne said. “You go to a playground and your one kid can be playing but your other kid can’t.”

Payne’s 13-year-old son has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. Her 10-year-old son does not have the same restrictions.

When the boys were younger, navigating the park with a wheelchair was difficult. While one son would run around and play, the other couldn’t experience the playground unless she held him in her lap on a swing or left him sitting at a “talking tube” that carries sound across the playground.

A play structure that allows all children to interact is important for development and socialization. It also shows children they have more in common with someone with different abilities than they think, said Arvilla Ohlde, a retired parks and recreation professional.

“All the barriers are brought down,” Ohlde said of inclusive playgrounds. “When you look at the whole social system of how children mature, I think it begins on the playground.”

She wrote the grant that secured $180,000 in state money to help pay for the playground. The playground committee raised $105,000 and the city dedicated $115,000.

Ohlde has a parks and recreation degree with a special emphasis in recreation therapy for children with special needs. She has seen a shift in the recreation industry toward inclusivity on the playground.

“Professionals across the United States now want their playgrounds to meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements,” she said. “And to not just meet the minimum, but to make sure it’s fully integrated.”

That is the case at Crescent Creek. Part of the playground committee’s fundraising efforts included a $60,000 grant from Shane’s Inspiration, a California-based nonprofit dedicated to bringing accessible playgrounds to communities across the country.

The grant connected the local group to Minnesota-based Landscape Structures, which built the playground. The company designed the playground after visiting the area and using drawings from local children as inspiration.

Crews from Burien-based Playcreation Inc. assembled the fishing vessel in last week’s rain. When it opens – no date has been set – the playground will be the second of its kind on the peninsula. A third accessible playground is set to open in Bremerton in the summer. Payne knows of one other accessible playground in Puyallup and said she hopes the move to inclusive play spreads.

“I really hope that every park has some element that kids with disabilities can play with,” she said. “That doesn’t mean it has to be a whole structure, but maybe changing swings so there’s ADA accessible swings and maybe some other element to it. That would be great.”

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467

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