Kearney's Inclusive Playground Open for Play

By: Megan Johnson Email
By: Megan Johnson Email

Last summer it was a dream on paper, but now Kearney's inclusive playground is a reality.

The Arc of Buffalo County says that double-wide ramps, special slides, interactive features, and a smooth surface mean anyone can have fun on this playground.

"We shouldn't have a 'special playground' where kids with disabilities are relegated to play," says Kristen Larsen, Executive Director of the Arc of Buffalo County. "We want a playground where people of all abilities, all-inclusive, get to play together."

A committee of volunteers set out with the idea nearly ten years ago, and got a boost when the city agreed to use $300,000 in half-cent sales tax funds, and when a private donor stepped up.

"We were fully prepared to write grants and knock on a lot of doors and visit with a lot of people and then Scott Morris was so nice to come through like he did," says Playground Committee Volunteer Charlie Pickens.

Now that it's constructed Larsen says the Leafie Mae Playground, named for Morris' grandmother, has an impact beyond attracting visitors.

"When you have children with and without disabilities playing together, that creates a sense of community," she says. "It takes away stigma associated with disabilities and helps strengthen your community."

Kearney Parks and Recreation Director Scott Hayden says that while a completely inclusive playground like theirs is relatively rare, it won't be for long.

"Future playgrounds that we design will have elements of inclusion for sure involved with because playgrounds should be for everybody and all ability levels and that's really what we want to model after," he says.

Pickens says it's not surprising more people are thinking that way, and not just in terms of recreation.

"Even people building their new homes are making them accessible even though nobody in the family at this time needs to have it, so it's finally in our conscious," he says.

The playground is ready to be played on this winter, but the committee says they'll have a grand opening and dedication when it warms up this spring.


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