Leveling The Playing Field



Imagine for a moment that it is a warm summer day and your children are begging to go on a picnic. Where do you take them? Many parents would head to their local park so that the children can play on the playground after lunch.

But what if one of your children was in a wheelchair or has special needs? Would you still be able to go to that playground? If you are headed to The Walnut Grove – A Field of Opportunity, the answer to that question is yes!

The Walnut Grove – A Field of Opportunity is the vision of a group of community members in Canfield, Ohio working to create an outdoor recreational facility where all children can learn, play and interact. Founded in 2013, The Walnut Grove – A Field of Opportunity took a closer look at the needs of our community and concluded that children with special needs and their families didn’t have the recreational opportunities that other families had.

The local parks, while big and beautiful, don’t have equipment that a child in a wheelchair can use, or surfacing that a mobility device can be easily maneuvered through. Many times, a child with braces can’t climb the stairs often associated with playground equipment, a child with visual impairments can’t see the changes in ground surface, or the child who can’t hold themselves upright can’t enjoy the swings. More than all of this, children with special needs can’t get the social interaction with their peers because the playground doesn’t accommodate their needs.

With all of these thoughts in mind, one of the first projects the Walnut Grove board of directors is addressing is the need for an inclusive playground where children of all abilities can play and socialize with their friends and family. After a year of research and planning, we are at the fundraising stage of our new playground, with the goal of installing the first phase of the playground this summer. When both phases of the playground are complete, they will encompass an acre of land and there will be no playground like it within 60 miles.

The Walnut Grove Playground will have a rubberized surface installed below all of the playground equipment to enable children with mobility devices and visual impairments, a smooth play surface, and the softer surfacing has some give so that falls are less painful. There will also be shade structures installed over some of the equipment and creative play areas to reduce the amount of sun children are exposed to. This will help keep the equipment cooler to touch and give children who get sunburn easily due to medications the opportunity to play at any time of the day.

The playground design has a large center play structure with independent equipment that is surrounded by a walkway. The play structure will have ramps that will take children in wheelchairs four feet off the ground and up to six feet from the ground for children with more mobility.

Surrounding the center structure, there will be plenty of equipment for children to play on, including a We-Saw where one to four people can see saw together, and wheelchair users have easy access to transferring themselves from their chair to the We-Saw. The Rollerslide will engage children that use Cochlear implants to slide down without any interference to their device and the OmniSpin Spinner, which is an updated version of the merry-go-round that is easily accessible so all children, can experience the joy of spinning along with their friends. The goal of the design team was to include equipment that offered variety and something for everyone.

The second phase of the playground will surround the center play area, which is where the swings (wheelchair, molded bucket, tires, etc), Zip Krooz, creative play area, sand area and musical instruments will be located. The wheelchair swings are strong enough for children and adults to wheel right up to the ram of the swing, strap down and enjoy the up and down movement. The pretend play will include a large interactive fire truck that will help children development sensory, motor and social skills in a variety of ways; and the musical instruments are tuned to match the pitch of real instruments and are accessible children of all ages and sizes.

In addition to building a state- of-the-art inclusive playground, The Walnut Grove – A Field of Opportunity will be developing nature trails through the properties wetlands and will have a bridge connecting it to the MillCreek MetroParks Bike Path, one of the largest biking trails in the county. This connection will encourage bikers to enjoy a break at The Walnut Grove and encourage families to take a walk or bike ride after playing on the playground.

Although the cost of the playground and trails construction is high, we are fortunate to have local foundations and individual donors excited about supporting this project. When complete, we believe The Walnut Grove – A Field of Opportunity will be a place for friends and families to gather, socialize and play! •

To learn more about The Walnut Grove – A Field of Opportunity or to make a donation to our project, visit TheWalnutGrove.com

Kelly Long sits on the board of Walnut Grove – A Field of Opportunity, a nonprofit group organized to build a special needs playground and more in Canfield, Ohio.