Spanish Fork City’s new all-abilities park holds the promise of greater inclusivity for local families who have children with special needs.
If you’ve recently driven up Canyon Road near 1321 East in Spanish Fork, you’ve probably noticed a behemoth of a park rising up from the dirt. It is Spanish Fork’s first and only all-abilities park and is designed to fill an important need in the community.
The name of Spanish Fork City’s all-abilities park is scheduled to be unveiled during a “soft opening” event reserved for special needs families in the community. Families will be invited on an invitation-only basis.
The official grand opening, which is for all members of the community with tickets, is scheduled for Sept. 12 and will begin at 10 a.m.
There are many families in Spanish Fork who have children with special needs. Regular parks don’t have the safety features required for these children to freely play with others. Too often, families have to drive long distances or go to extreme measures to include all of their children in healthy outdoor play.
A generous member of the community donated a large amount of money to get the park going, and it’s been on the fast-track to completion ever since (though COVID-19 did cause the initial opening date to be delayed).
In-Site Design Group, a company based in American Fork, designed the all-abilities park while pulling inspiration from other parks throughout the state.
However, Dale Robinson, Parks and Recreation Director for Spanish Fork, insists that local families should also be credited for the park’s design. Many of its special features were added as a direct result of requests and input from Spanish Fork residents.
Spanish Fork City invited feedback from 30 families who have children with special needs. The families gave invaluable insight during the planning process and specified what park features would be most beneficial to them.
In regard to the participation of local families, Robinson stated “they have no idea what an impact they had on this whole thing.”
He also expressed his excitement that the community will finally have its own all-abilities park that will make it possible “for families with special needs to play together. They don’t have to play separate.”
Though they may not fully understand the impact they had on the park’s design, local residents are watching park progress closely.
Abbey Marshall, a Spanish Fork resident and mother of a 10-year-old child on the autism spectrum, is one of the community members who was asked to provide input for the park.
For her family, the park will be more than just a fun place to play. She expressed her excitement for having an area “where I feel included and have a place for my family to go where we’re not getting pushed out.” Her son, Cash, loves to be outside, loves sensory things, and enjoys music.
For him, this park offers greater opportunities to play side-by-side with his siblings and retreat to quiet areas within the park with his parents when necessary.
Kristy Stratton, another local mother, looks forward to bringing all her children to the park so they can play together without the older children getting bored.
Her daughter, Skylar, has Down’s syndrome and loves swings. Stratton looks forward to making good use of the strap-in swings and ziplines in the park.
One of the first things you see when you enter the park is an impressive, 24-foot-tall treehouse that looks like it could have been put together by kids. The charming one-of-a-kind design features crooked boards and little woodland creatures peeking out from the massive tree trunk. There is a ramp on one side that allows children with special needs to walk or be wheeled approximately six feet up into the treehouse. Able-bodied children can climb to the top of the treehouse through a spiral staircase inside the trunk.
From the wide entrance at the front of the park to the large waterfall mountain at the back, it’s clear that this park is designed for optimum accessibility.
There are wheelchair-friendly, gradually sloping ramps located in different areas. Even the shallow river near the splash pad has gently sloping portions that allow wheelchairs to be pushed directly into the water.
One of the park’s most notable features is the waterfall mountain and grotto. The mountain has two wheelchair ramps on either side that lead to lookout areas and a tunnel near the top. Stepping into the tunnel is like stepping into an old gold mine.
Portions of the walls glitter just like gold and crystals. There are also dinosaur skeletons bulging out from the walls.
At the base of the mountain is a grotto where families can sit on benches behind the waterfalls, enjoy each other’s company, and cool down.
Additional special features include a swaying rocker that’s wheelchair-accessible, strap-in swings, zip-line swings, and a custom-built slide that is wide enough to hold several children or adults at once. There are also expression swings that allow parents to sit across from their children and watch their gleeful expressions while they swing.
One feature, called the Liberty Swing, is reserved exclusively for wheelchair use. Parents who need the swing will be trained in its operation and will be issued a key that allows them to enter the locked gate that encloses the swing. The park has several metal slides, which are shaded to avoid excessive heat.
Robinson stated that metal slides were added to the park because of input from parents who have children with cochlear implants. According to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, static electricity generated from plastic slides can interfere with cochlear implants.
Multiple restrooms are located conveniently near the splash pad at the center of the park.
Visitors will have the option to use regular public restrooms or private family restrooms. Most of the restrooms have regular changing tables, but one has a full-size table that can easily accommodate an adult or large child with special needs.
To ensure public safety, the park is intentionally designed with just one entrance.
This unique feature gives families peace of mind that their children won’t wander out of the park or run into the street.
It seems that every consideration was taken to make Spanish Fork City’s all-abilities park as safe, fun and inclusive as possible. For families like the Marshalls and the Strattons, Sept. 12 can’t come soon enough.
Those who would like to attend the park’s grand opening event are invited to visit the Spanish Fork City website to request free tickets. (Peterson is a Serve Daily contributor.)