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Accessible playground will soon be a reality

Starting next year, thanks to a $211,350 grant from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) and other past funding, Evergreen Rotary Park will be home to Kitsap County’s first ADA accessible playground.

That’s incredible news for the as many as 3,500 kids with disabilities within the park’s service area. Previously, getting to the closest accessible playground required a 60 mile round-trip drive to the Gig Harbor area.

It’s also great news for Bremerton Beyond Accessible Play, a group of parents formed in 2011 that is dedicated to creating accessible play opportunities for children with special needs.

Rebecca Uhtoff, the group’s vice president, has been organizing family fun activities to build a support group for individuals with spina bifida and hydrocephalus.

“While mothers try to change the world for their children, mothers of children with special needs try a little harder,” she said. “I am working hard to remove barriers for my son, Gabe, to access his world from his wheelchair. By removing barriers to play, I can help create an accessible playground where Gabe, his brother, Jacob, and their friends have a chance to swing, to slide and to spin.”

Uhtoff says that the new accessible playground will strengthen the entire community.

“This inclusive playground will not only give my son and many others the chance to swing, slide, and take part in all the games, but will also contribute to building our community’s support group,” Uhtoff said. “The Evergreen Rotary Park Inclusive Playground has the potential of calling every family out to play, thrilling children, parents and grandparents as well, and bringing us all closer together so that all may play.”

April Mills, whose 6-year-old son, Theodore, has spina bifida, is president of the Bremerton Beyond Accessible Play group and says the new playground will be an amazing contribution to the lives of children with limited mobility.

“Rather than watching others play, the children will get to fully experience all the joys their typically developing peers take for granted,” Mills said. “They’ll be able to slide, spin, sway, and swing with everyone else.  The accessible surfacing and ramps will allow them to save their strength for play and the interaction with their peers will be life changing for their typically developing peers.”

Mills said that the accessible playground will mean good things for able-bodied kids as well.

“We’ve heard that research shows that if younger than third-grade typically developing children play with special needs children, they treat children and adults with special needs better the rest of their lives,” she said. “How outstanding is that? We can give everyone that opportunity to play together.”

The Bremerton Beyond Accessible Play group has raised $50,500 so far to support the work and is spearheading an effort to use volunteer labor and more donations to finish the project. In addition, the City of Bremerton has secured a $160,850 Community Development Block Grant to support the effort.

Funding also includes a $10,000 Department of Natural Resources Urban Forestry grant and city parks crew installation labor valued at $15,200.

The new playground will include accessible slides and swings for children of all abilities, including those in wheelchairs with the use of ramps. Firmer surfaces instead of the wood chips that are in place now at the playground will also allow for the use of wheelchairs.

“For many of these kids, they’ve never been able to use a slide in their neighborhood, but that will change,” noted Francis Dinger, a marketing and communications associate at WWRP.

Earlier this year, families involved in Bremerton Beyond Accessible Play joined the the WWRP in Olympia during a reception at the Governor’s mansion where kids and parents alike had an opportunity to share their story with state lawmakers and let them know the true importance of the funding. State Senators Christine Rolfes and Tim Sheldon along with State Rep. Sherry Appleton have been very supportive of this program, WWRP officials stated.

“This project is one of many examples of how the WWRP grant program is empowering communities to meet their recreation needs,” said Joanna Grist, executive director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, the WWRP’s primary watchdog and advocate. “Because of this project, thousands of kids who have never had access to a jungle gym will finally be able to join their friends by playing in the park.”

The grant came through after the state legislature approved the capital construction budget, including $65 million for the WWRP, funding more than 80 trails, parks, water front areas, and working farms across the state.

 

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