Ellis Park Incorporates Inclusive Play For The First Time While Cultivating Unity And Connection Within The Community

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The playground at Ellis Park has successfully served the community of Salisbury, N.C. for over 25 years.

After years of continuous usage, elements of the area became worn down. Pieces of the playground were outdated and replacement parts specific to the outdated playground were no longer being offered. While the existing structure did provide ramp access, there were no other pieces that encouraged inclusive play making it difficult for children of all abilities to use. Additionally, the play area featured mulch surfacing which did not work well with wheelchairs and other mobility devices consequently hindering children’s abilities to grow together.

“Ellis Park is a beacon of unity and connection for this community. The equipment that was previously here was over 25 years old and it was not accessible for any person with a disability. So there was a tremendous need for new playground equipment,” Therapeutic Recreation Supervisor from Rowan County Parks and Recreation Department Vernice Clyburn said.

Some children engage on the playground more naturally than others do. If a child that uses a wheelchair or mobility device encounters a traditional play park with mulch surfacing, it will be difficult for that child to feel welcomed and engage in activities with other children.

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Many playgrounds lack areas for inclusive play. According to 2014 data, Rowan County has 12-15 children with disabilities per 1,000 residents. Needless to say, this specific playground was definitely in need of an upgrade for all those aspiring to be a part of the area.

When thinking about inclusive play, numerous different abilities need to be considered. This is where Cheraw, South Carolina-based Superior Recreation of the Carolinas came in.

The new playground project was funded by a grant won in 2017. Because of the grant, Rowan County Parks and Recreation was able to upgrade this outdated playground into one that children of all abilities could use.

The Rowan County Parks and Recreation Department teamed with Superior Recreation of the Carolinas to transform the outdated playground into a themed inclusive play area.

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The design includes a large ramped structure with access to meaningful play activities, a swing set with accessible seats, an Inclusive Orbit that invites children to spin around, and a Team-Swing that allows solo or group swinging. All of these pieces are complimented by poured-in-place surfacing- a surfacing that is inviting for everyone. Each part of the playground helps bring the community together.

The Inclusive Orbit, a take on an old-school merry-go-ground that is flush with the play area’s surfacing for wheelchair accessibility, was a community favorite out of the many inclusive play items integrated into the playground.

“This piece of equipment is like a magnet to our guests in the park. It is truly an all-inclusive piece of equipment and I would include [it] on any future projects that we will have,” Director of Parks and Recreation for Rowan County Don Bringle said.

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Other features include a Buddy Bench as well as climbers and slides.

The Buddy Bench gives children a place to sit and take a break after engaging in play. The bench was strategically placed on the outside of the structure to create a safe space eliminating loneliness and helping foster friendships for all children.

Studies show that children enjoy touching and hearing; therefore, sensory experiences in a play space are vital. The musical play equipment encourages growth in listening and language skills as well as a unique tactile experience that sparks a child’s imagination.

The whole purpose of the playground upgrade was to incorporate an inclusive play aspect to the play environment for children in all stages of life.

Rowan County teamed with Superior Recreation of the Carolinas to create an inclusive playground that was themed to match the natural surroundings of the playground area. Their Recreation Consultant, Cobie Ellington, worked with manufacturer Superior Recreational Products’ design team to develop a concept that truly checked-off all Rowan County’s wants and needs.

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The goal was to make this playground area appear as if it was part of the original park environment. This included giving the commercial playground equipment a more natural look. The beautiful trees and the natural elements surrounding the designated play area were the inspiration behind the nature theme. The tree post toppers, cabins, and green and brown color scheme were added to match the natural surroundings. The look encourages nature play as well.

The playground is designed for children ages 2-12 of all levels of ability, but Cobie Ellington said the playground is truly one for all ages.

“A child with any type of ability or disability- they can all interact together on this playground,” Ellington explained.

One of the goals was to bring people of all ability levels together with the inclusive playground. “Inclusive means to include everyone and everybody regardless of what their abilities are. It was very important to have this playground reflect that,” said Clyburn.

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Since the red ribbon cutting ceremony at Ellis Park, the playground’s upgrade has served the community well.

“It’s an interaction that creates participation with all individuals,” Bringle claimed.

More than just access, this playground allows children of all abilities to feel included. All children are able to engage in their right to play and they are able to develop crucial physical, social, and emotional skills. From the multiple access points to integrated play events, this inclusive playground was designed for everyone.

“Working with Superior, we are ecstatic with how the park has turned out- how the community has embraced this,” explained Bringle.

Childhood is about exploring the world, challenging growing muscles, and using imagination in new ways. It’s proven that children need unstructured play to grow and develop into happy, healthy, and well-adjusted people and that’s exactly what the Salisbury, N.C. community received with this playground- a space to gather and connect with one another no matter the ability level.

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