Joshua Downs and Gracie Wilson enter the new All-Abilities Playground Friday morning as Steve Gallagher swings the gate open for the first time for public use. (Gary Henry/The Prairie Press)

A dream comes true

The gates opened early Friday morning for the Twin Lakes All-Abilities Playground.

“It’s open for good,” said Steve Gallagher one of the community volunteers that devoted countless hours to fundraising, designing and physical labor to make the new playground in Twin Lakes Park a reality. “It’s awesome. It has been two years and three months in the making.”

The All-Abilities playground is unique because the equipment is designed to accommodate special needs children but is usable by all children. It provides a safe place to play for families with both special needs and abled children. Visiting regular playgrounds often meant a special needs child continued in their isolation because the equipment is unsuitable for them

“This playground is for everybody, including grandparents,” said Paris city commissioner Bob Boyer. 

He added the playground is a positive enhancement for the community community that will likely attract families from a wider area to come and play – much like the adjacent splash park has done.

“We’re really going to have something great,” said Boyer.

As a grandfather with two special needs grandsons, Boyer said the new playground eases an unmet need in the community.

“I didn’t realize how many kids there are with special needs until Matt Colvin started the Challengers baseball,” said Boyer.

Before the All-Abilities Park, Boyer and his wife, Ruth, took their grandsons to play at the special needs playground at Deming Park, Terre Haute, Ind., but he prefers the new playground in Paris because of the special shock-absorbing material surrounding all of the equipment. 

“My oldest grandson has weak legs, and he just plops down on you,” said Boyer.

The spongy surface flexes when walking on it, and to protect the investment the playground has two firm rules – pets are not allowed and no food or drink is permitted inside the fence. A newly constructed shelter donated by Cargil provides a place to take a break for snacks and drinks.

Boyer also appreciates the playground was a community effort.

“All of those little donations really added up,” he said.

Gallagher agreed. 

He said a demonstration of community support was apparent Thursday when employees from B&B Tree and Stump Removal were at the park to finish pouring the concrete walk and other people were working on the pavilion.

“We have a very giving community, and we were very fortunate with the support we got,” said playground committee member Renee Blumthal, who has always had an interest for projects helping special needs children.

According to Gallagher, the cash donations and the in-kind services donated by various businesses made the All-Abilities Playground a $300,000 project. It came in on budget and is essentially complete except for some grading work, seeding and landscaping. 

The official ribbon cutting and dedication is 10 a.m. Aug. 12 with Mayor Craig Smith and others making comments. That’s for the benefit of the adults. The benefit for the children is having the playground open.

“We just wanted to get it open so the kids could enjoy it before they go back to school,” said Gallagher.


The Prairie Press

101 Central Avenue Paris, IL 61944