Photo Courtesy Of Kevin R. Mitchell
Casey Tridico, a 7-year-old girl from Grapevine, Texas, was full of life, smiles, and dreams. Unfortunately, she had a neuromuscular disease that confined her to a wheelchair, although that didn’t slow her down. At the time of her death, in July 1995, Casey was serving as the Texas Goodwill Ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. One of her dreams was to find a playground that would allow her to keep up with her able-bodied friends. Casey’s Clubhouse is that playground. Although she never lived to see it, the visitors who listen carefully might hear the delightful laughter of a little angel whose dream has come true.
Photo Courtesy Of Kevin R. Mitchell
Casey’s memory is alive and well today. In 1996, her mother Debra began a mission to create a place for children to play together, regardless of their abilities. Her goal was to raise $250,000 for this unique playground. While this was an extremely ambitious project, more than 1,000 donors, from individuals and families to small businesses and large corporations, stepped up to make this dream a reality. After the money was raised, the state rewarded Debra with a matching grant, and construction soon began. On May 30, 1998, Casey’s Clubhouse opened to the public.
For the past 15 years, this playground has been filled with kids joining in on the fun, with many birthday parties hosted at its pavilion.
But every playground has its “shelf life,” so time and the elements required an upgrade. In 2008, discussions began on what the next version of Casey's Clubhouse would look like. Everyone agreed on one idea: an actual clubhouse would be a central feature in the design.
Michael Black with Laterra Studio was tasked with the design concept. Once the design was deemed presentation-worthy, it was revealed to Debra and her husband Louis. The new look involved a more woodland-like theme, complete with a large tree and enclosed treehouse as the dominant features. The concept was ultimately approved by city council.
The donor plaza is the first area that visitors experience, where tribute is paid to the thousands of donors and volunteers who pioneered the original playground. From there, it’s up the wheelchair-accessible ramp to the treehouse, where a view of the entire playground includes a glimpse of many whimsical characters.
Playground features include:
Big Tree And Clubhouse
The large tree has a clubhouse 6 feet above the ground. Inside is a spiral staircase that extends 14 feet to the top. A large ramp from the donor plaza brings patrons of all abilities to the clubhouse. Once inside, there are many interactive games. For a real adventure, one can climb to the top of the tree and slide down the 14-foot tall tube. Two other slides lead to exits, or visitors can take the fun “elevator.” Each slide offers a different experience. The Double Lightning Slide is a two-rider slide made of stainless steel. It was selected specifically for children with cochlear implants because it eliminates static electricity. Plastic playground slides can zap hearing devices and force kids to play in silence. The rumble slide has rollers to stimulate different back muscles. Below the clubhouse are play features and many discovery items. The living roof on top of the tree provides shade for all. Attached to the porch of the clubhouse is a series of climbers, including a grape cluster. The clubhouse even has its own weather station! Underneath the clubhouse are tactile objects and more discovery items (we don't want to spoil the surprises). Attached to the clubhouse is the “Cozy Cocoon,” which is fun for all children, but designed especially for those with autism spectrum disorder. The structure’s enclosed space offers a secure spot to which any child can escape when he or she becomes over-stimulated by the hubbub of the playground. The pod’s textural interior and molded-in features promote tactile exploration, and helpful grips allow easy entrance and exit. Windows on both sides facilitate supervision.
Daisy And Skippy
Casey's pet turtles, Daisy and Skippy, are making waves on their return to the playground. They are literally waterskiing behind a boat. The boat has interactive panels and allows kids to “drive” it. The “ski rope” is a climber and allows kids to climb between the boat and the turtles.
The Rock Quarry
The rock quarry is a series of stone climbers and characters that are helping “construct” the stone columns around the park. This area is also inclusive. A special rock arch allows wheelchairs to pass through it, and another rock climber has a transfer platform integrated on it. In this area, kids can climb all over the rocks, climb on the spider web, and go down the nine-foot-tall “Slither Slide,” where they are greeted by Sam and Sally snake, Anthony the armadillo, and the prairie dogs Leroy, Lamont, Lavern, and Bob.
The green plastic factory is in the middle of the play space. The giant “Helping Hand” is “picking” plastic fruit from the playground and creating the purple slide. Alvin the anteater is overseeing the construction of the tube slide on the clubhouse. The factory has many interactive panels and climbers for the kids to play in, on, and around.
The Fishing Shack
The Fishing Shack is a play structure dedicated to children from 2 to 5 years old. The shack has many items for discovery and a special slide for the little ones. At the end of the pier is a boat, which is fully accessible, so visitors in wheelchairs can enter and enjoy the ride along with all of their friends.
At the edge of the boardwalk is a series of logs to climb on and under. If one looks closely in this area, one can see Benny the beaver sawing logs.
LiveWire Zip Line
Kids can line up to take their turn on this exhilarating ride, an 80-foot-long zip line with sleek sculptural styling.
DJ Dolphin And LB Dolphin
The Dolphins swam over from Dove Elementary School to play with the kids. If LB Dolphin is “tickled,” she might emit a spray of water. Both dolphins have interactive water features.
Kevin Mitchell is the Assistant Director of Parks for the city of Grapevine, Texas. Teach him at (817) 410-3347, or firstname.lastname@example.org .