A helping hand
Eagle River wants to be the kind of place where physical and mental challenges shouldn’t keep kids from having fun.
That was the message organizers of the new all-inclusive playground project wanted to convey during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the one-of-a-kind facility in Town Square Park.
“This community stepped up and made a statement, and that statement should be clear,” said Focus Inc. executive director Seth Kelley.
Focus Inc. and the Eagle River Area Rotary Club took the lead on the project, dubbed “Let’s All Play — Eagle River.” Although the project was conceived of less than a year ago, Rotary outgoing president Tonya Gamble said things came together perfectly.
“This has been a whirlwind project,” Gamble said.
Gamble said more than $110,000 was raised in cash donations alone. She said when Rotary began approaching people about helping, the response was overwhelming.
“When people heard what we were doing, the funds just started rolling in,” she said.
Gamble also thanked the local legislative delegation for helping secure funding, as well as the Eagle River Parks department for its support.
While she addressed the large crowd on hand for the ceremony, Gamble had to speak up to be heard over the squeals of dozens of children using the new equipment. The kids included several with special needs, whose different ability levels were specifically taken into account during the playground’s design.
“We’re trying to change the idea that kids with disabilites need to be treated differently,” Kelley said.
The playground’s layout is designed so children must interact with each other, he said. There’s also wheelchari ramps and other accessibility features, along with special sensory panels to keep children engaged in the equipment. Kelley said the idea is to bring kids of all ability levels together.
“Once kids come onto the playground here they’re just kids,” he said.
When the project was first proposed, Kelley said he heard from a mother of a special needs child who was overjoyed at the idea.
“She’d gone to the playground and her child couldn’t use the equipment,” Kelley said.
He said the woman was so moved because of the statement the state’s first all-inclusive playground makes about her hometown.
“For her it was the community of Eagle River recognized her as an individual,” he said. “That’s a real strength of the community to do that.”
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tun[email protected].