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Playgrounds for All Abilities

July 17, 2024 12:00 AM

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​Ahh, summer, when the need to help kids release some energy and play with others can mean a trip to a nearby playground.

Recently, Depa​rtment of Conservation and Natural Resources officials have helped communities celebrate refreshed playgrounds that are intended to make sure all kids can play and have fun.

New Concepts for Playgrounds​​

Young child with parent with harnessed chair swing at playground
Young visitor on accessible playground swing at Brightbill Park.

There are a number of things to consider as communities look to replace old play equipment or install playgrounds in new parks.

  • Accessible playground design provides physical accessibility to children with disabilities. Accessibility is a good starting point. Inclusivity is a more comprehensive goal for playground design.

  • An inclusive playground is an open and safe space carefully designed to promote play among children of differing abilities, ages, and communities. It gives children with and without any disability the same platform to play while breaking down physical and social barriers.

  • Universally-designed playgrounds feature multipurpose game settings and a range of physical elements including sensory play beneficial to all children, while allowing those with disabilities to play alongside abled children.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recognizes the importance of inclusive recreation opportunities for all Pennsylvanians.

Department grants can help support accessible and inclusive playgrounds throughout the state.

The agency works to assist Pennsylvania’s more than 6,100 local parks across the Commonwealth with grants and planning expertise.

Communities Improving Playgrounds

A few recent events help to highlight communities embracing the vision of accessibly and inclusive play spaces.

Brightbill Park, Lower Paxton Township, Dauphin County

Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn stands in group photo with Lower Paxton Township Officials, child in wheelchair at Brightbill Park
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn, Lower Paxton Township officials, and park users pose for a group photo in front of playground equipment at new ​Brightbill Park.

Last month, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn joined Lower Paxton Township officials to celebrate a new inclusive, multi-part playground and picnic plaza.

“The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ mission is to protect and preserve the Commonwealth’s natural resources for present and future generations, and this new inclusive playground and picnic plaza is a prime example of how we can be more mindful of opportunities for all in the future,” Dunn said.

The $1 million inclusive, multi-part playground and picnic plaza at the 41-acre park was funded by a $520,000 Department grant. Upgrades include:

  • A sound garden with a variety of outdoor musical instruments allows children to explore various sounds and tones, expanding their sensory play

  • Creation of a small outdoor plaza with new benches and picnic tables, including a wheelchair-accessible table

  • Replacing the existing outdoor grills with two new units on a cement pad for easier access

  • Creating a paved path from the parking lot to an existing path in the nearby wooded area

“Brightbill stands out as a treasure in our township, and this project is a crucial step in our ongoing efforts to upgrade all of our parks,” said Lower Paxton Township Supervisor Chairman Robin Lindsey. “We understand that our parks are important investments in our residents’ well-being, encouraging a healthier and happier community.”

Clarion County Park, Shippenville

Brightly-colored playground equipment attached by wide, accessible platforms
New playground equipment at Clarion County Park.

A recently dedicated playground replaces the county’s out-of-date playground equipment with all-inclusive equipment to help better serve the needs of children within the community.

It includes equipment supporting play spaces that eliminate barriers for children ages two to 12.

At the event, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Claire Jantz told the Clarion crowd there is growing support for these types of grants.

“These are the types of projects that the Department wants to lift because part of our core mission is recreation for all,” Jantz said.

Ridley Creek State Park Sensory Playground, Delaware County​​​​​

Nature-themed sensory playground area with Nature Hunt Label
Nature-themed sensory playground at Ridley Creek State Park.

A new sensory playground at Area 8 was completed this spring as described in the Friends of Ridley Creek newsletter (PDF).

It consists of imaginative panels that invite young children to:

  • Hunt for treasure
  • Listen for natural sounds
  • Solve some motion puzzles, among dozens of activities

Accessible and inclusive playgrounds are more than just places to play -- they are symbols of a society that values diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The Department is developing principles named “Mosiac” centered around ensuring the lands it manages are accessible to all; providing inclusive and equitable programs and services; and recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources applauds communities working to create a future where every child can experience the thrill of play in a welcoming and supportive environment.

Learn more in the blog Let’s all Play! Why Accessible Playgrounds Matter from the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society.

For more information on Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grants, get in touch with a Bureau of Recreation and Conservation regional advisor (PDF)​.​​​

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