Ellis Park incorporates an inclusive, camp-themed play environment while cultivating unity and connection within the community

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The original playground at Ellis Park fulfilled its duty of successfully serving the community of Salisbury, N.C. for over 25 years.

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The playground became outdated and worn down after years of continuous usage from community members. The play structure provided ramp access; however, there were really no other inclusive play pieces that would otherwise offer a play environment for all children. Additionally, the playground needed replacement parts that were no longer being sold.

“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 Vernice Clyburn said.

In addition to the lack of inclusive play elements and inability to order replacement parts, the mulch around the play area did not suit wheelchairs and other mobility devices in the most sufficient ways. The mulch surfacing was an obstacle for children of all developmental stages to even access the play environment, ultimately hindering the children’s abilities to play and grow together. On the playground, some children overcome their fears more naturally than others; however, if a child that uses a wheelchair or mobility device encounters a traditional play park with mulch surfacing like the original Ellis Park playground, it would be difficult for that child to feel welcomed and engage in activities that other children partake in.

Many playgrounds do not have designated inclusive play products. When planning a playground full of inclusive play pieces, numerous different abilities need to be considered in order for all children to feel welcome and play equally. According to 2014 data, Rowan County has 12-15 children with disabilities per 1,000 residents. Needless to say, Ellis Park was in need of an upgrade in order to best serve the members of its community.

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Thanks to the funds from a 2017 grant, Rowan County Parks and Recreation was able to upgrade this outdated playground to cater to the needs of children within the community.

The county teamed with Superior Recreation of the Carolinas, a Cheraw, South Carolina-based playground dealership, to create an aesthetically inviting area reminiscent of a camp.

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

The Superior Recreation of the Carolina’s Recreation Consultant, Cobie Ellington, worked with manufacturer Superior Recreational Products’ (SRP) design team to develop a concept for Rowan County and then took it one step further by transforming the vision into a reality.

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The SRP design team worked to design an inclusive themed playground that would match the natural environment surrounding the original play area. The purpose of this theming was to instill the feeling of being at summer camp. The goal was to use commercial playground equipment to make this playground appear almost as if it had been when it was initially there. This included an intentional, untouched look.

The beautiful trees and the elements of nature surrounding the designated play area were the inspiration behind this theme. The tree post toppers, cabin-style roofs, and green and brown color scheme are all elements Superior Recreation of the Carolinas used to fulfill this request. The look encourages children to incorporate and execute nature play as well.

The uniquely designed, camp-themed playground includes a swing set with accessible seats, a Team Swing that allows solo or group swinging, a large ramped structure providing access to meaningful play activities, and an Inclusive Orbit that invites children to spin around with one another.

The Inclusive Orbit, a take on an old-school merry-go-ground was a community favorite out of the many inclusive play items integrated into the playground. The roundabout is a piece where children of all abilities can be spun around together and have the same experience as the person next to them.

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“This piece of equipment is like a magnet to our park guests. It is 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.

Other features on the playground include a Buddy Bench as well as various climbers and slides.

The Buddy Bench provides children a safe space to venture towards if they are feeling left out of the play environment. When a child sits on this bench, it signals to other children that they need a buddy to make them feel included. The Buddy Bench at Ellis Park was strategically placed on the outside of the structure to create a designated space eliminating loneliness and fostering friendships for all children.

Studies reveal that children enjoy touching and hearing, so naturally, sensory experiences incorporated throughout the playground were a must for Ellis Park. Superior Recreation of the Carolinas met these sensory needs by providing musical play equipment that encourages growth in both listening and language as well as a unique tactile experience that sparks a child’s imagination to run wild.

All of these pieces are complimented by poured-in-place surfacing- a unified, rubber surfacing that is accessible to everyone. The poured-in-place surfacing was strategically selected to tie into all the inclusive elements within this play environment. Additionally, a complimentary mix of brown and black rubber granules were put in place to fit within the natural summer camp theme.

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The playground is designed for children ages 2-12 of all levels of ability, but Cobie Ellington spoke on the playground being one for all ages to play.

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

Since the red ribbon cutting ceremony on July 12, 2018 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 a stage of life when children have a natural desire to explore the world around them, challenge their growing muscles, and use their expanding imaginations in new ways. Ellis Park provides structured, yet candid, opportunities for children of all abilities.