Everybody gets to play: City of St. Cloud opens its first inclusive park

Cannery Park has ramps, platforms and pathways that allow wheelchair access throughout the space, with all of it built atop 11,000 square-feet of rubber turf.

Kids typically run around a playground, but at Cannery Park they can wheel around, too.

St. Cloud on Thursday opened the new park along with the city’s first inclusive playground – designed for both able-bodied children and those with mobility challenges.

“An all-inclusive park is designed in a way to provide a safe place where children of all abilities can play together,” said Parks and Recreation Director Stephanie Holtkamp. “They can use their mobility aid to maneuver the whole playground.”

The playground structure has ramps, platforms and pathways that allow wheelchair access throughout the space, with all of it built atop 11,000 square-feet of rubber turf.

There are specially designed teeter-totters, swings and a “we-go-round,” which is like a merry-go-round, only it’s flush with the ground and built for both adults and children.

“That’s really a big deal because we have the first one ever in the state,” Holtkamp said.

The city’s other 13 parks comply with the standards required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, such as having ramps that allow access in and out of the playground.

But there’s a big difference between a park that’s accessible to kids with special needs and one that’s designed with them in mind, Holtkamp said.

“We got the idea to build the all-inclusive park because we didn’t want to forget a segment of our population and leave some kids out of activities that all other children get to do,” she said.

Children deprived from playing in general and playing with other children are more susceptible to developmental delays including communicating, problem-solving, and socializing, according to experts.  

Located at 901 Virginia Ave., the one-acre park was purchased by the city from the Osceola County School District for $200,000.

A $500,000 grant from the federal Community Development Block Grant program provided a bulk of the funding for the park, with recreation impact fees covering the rest, Holtkamp said.

The city is evaluating a plan to renovate a vacant building on the Cannery Park property for Parks and Recreation, she said.

Osceola County opened an inclusive park in Buenaventura Lakes in January that caters to children on the autism spectrum. The structures at the SENSES Park are separated by space to allow for self-learning, exploration and less intense social play experiences for those on the autism disorder spectrum.