By Julie Emnett, Development Director, Child Care Resources
It kind of started with a yellow swing. Jenny Montgomery, who is the Owner/Tasting Room Director of Montgomery Distillery, remembers coming to Missoula in 2o11 and asking where to findf an adaptive swing suited for her son. Sadly, there was none.
For the uninitiated, an adaptive swing is made of molded plastic and has a high back, so that children with the need for more body support can enjoy swinging.
Out of this recognition that Missoula lacked a fundamental piece of fun, grew the magical All Abilities Playground Project. Jenny found a willing partner in Parks and Recreation Director Donna Gaukler, who recognized the need for a large-scale, universally accessible playground in Missoula. Jenny formed a committee and began to raise funds in 2012. Missoula Parks and Recreation dedicated 30,000 square feet of space in McCormick Park, which was excavated last fall by the College oF Technology.
A total of $400,000 in cash and $92,000 in in-kind gifts have been received to date for the first phase of the project, leaving about $40,000 left to raise. Phase Two (adding a stage, sensory garden, and another active play zone) will require another $200,000 to complete. The first phase of the project is expected to be complete by July 2014.
Jenny’s passion for this project is understandable. She talks of seeing children in wheelchairs unable to access playgrounds because of something as simple as wood chips used as its base. Her plans call for a pour-in-place rubberized surface, allowing all to have access.
The planning has been extensive, including focus groups with kids. “We let the kids tell us what they wanted. Wheeled and mobility-impaired children, children on the autism spectrum and kids with visual and hearing impairments,” Jenny explained. Overwhelmingly, they asked for “accessible surfacing (no wood chips), adaptive swings and other equipment, imaginative spaces in which to pretend and perform, and nature spaces in which to retreat and explore”, she reported.
Overwhelmingly, they asked for “accessible surfacing (no wood chips), adaptive swings and other equipment, imaginative spaces in which to pretend and perform, and nature spaces in which to retreat and explore”, she reported.
So, central to the new playground will be an innovative climbing feature: the “Play Mountain” will feature rubberized surfacing and will allow a power wheelchair to ascend. One side will be steep with climbing holds.
The kids also wanted a nature-based environment. “They hear about their peers being able to get out into the wilderness. We are bringing the wilderness to them. There’s even a tunnel, boulders from the Bonner Mill site and a cabin!”
And Jenny also notes that there will be many benches for families to relax and connect. Parents and grandparents with disabilities will be able to more easily play with their children and grandchildren.
Donations are still needed and checks can be made out to Friends of Missoula Parks, Playground Project, and sent to C/O 402 Eddy Avenue, Missoula, MT 59801.