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A place where everyone can play

Maggie Garrett (right) helps Haywood County Schools Physical Therapist Mary Beth Brown cut the ribbon on Waynesville’s new all-abilities playground. Cory Vaillancourt photo Maggie Garrett (right) helps Haywood County Schools Physical Therapist Mary Beth Brown cut the ribbon on Waynesville’s new all-abilities playground. Cory Vaillancourt photo

Most playgrounds aren’t accessible to children with physical or cognitive challenges; what’s worse, those kids are often left on the sidelines when their peers of average ability hit the slides, swings and sandboxes. 

But not in Waynesville. 

“We applied for several grants, and we were very successful in getting those. The entire idea quickly gained a lot of momentum from a lot of people and organizations and just coalesced very easily,” said Rhett Langston, Waynesville’s recreation director. 

He’s talking about Waynesville’s new all-abilities playground, where a group of supporters gathered for an official ribbon cutting on Aug. 16. 

“What really kicked it off was, we were able to get Connect N.C. bond funds, which is designed to help veterans or those with special needs. If I remember correctly, that paid for $92,000 out of $155,000,” Langston said. “That kind of kicked it off, and then we got a grant from the Evergreen Foundation, Waynesville Kiwanis, even the company that we got the equipment from, they donated a piece of equipment.”

To say the idea was popular is an understatement; Waynesville won a Kiwanis online voting competition with more than twice the votes of the second place finisher, but in the end wasn’t awarded playground funding by the group, although it did end up making a donation. 

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“I never had build a playground specifically like this, so we asked people in the community who had professional expertise or as parents who could tell us exactly what they would like to have,” he said. 

The playground, located off Vance Street where an old ball field once stood, has an ADA-compliant sidewalk perimeter and is bisected by a spongy, forgiving surface called pour n’ play.

“We didn’t do the entire thing because it is very expensive, but this will give them access to any of the components of the playground,” he said. 

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Soft, spongy surfaces surfaces and smooth plastic shapes like on the carousel make it easy for kids of all abilities to play together.

Attractions include three musical instruments — two drums and a kind of xylophone — along with a slide that has rollers on it, as well as another item children can pull themselves through that also has rollers. 

“And, the zip lines,” he said. “Those were all specifically designed for the playground.”

A proposed second phase still needs funding. 

“The price of that is right about $135,000 and it will attach right beside this playground,” he said. “Same concept.” 

Given the first phase’s popularity, a second would be just as welcome as the first. 

“I can’t say this for a fact, but from what I’ve been told,” he said, “this is the only one of its kind within a 90-mile radius.”

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