“Everybody has the right to play.”
It says that in large letters right on the wall at the entrance to Trane All-Abilities Park. It’s a declaration that the people of La Crosse, Wisconsin made real this summer when the 2-acre park, 10 years in the making, was dedicated.
Across seven play zones, the park is filled with all sorts of features and play equipment, including 7 different types of slides and music-makers from Goric Playgrounds.
Not merely an accessible park, the parents, therapists and social service professionals who spearheaded the development and raised much of the $6 million cost, emphasize that it is a park for everyone no matter their physical, cognitive or sensory abilities. Modeled after California’s Magical Bridge, Trane is one of the nation’s few completely accessible play spaces for children and adults of all abilities.
Rose Levendoski, whose 10-year-old granddaughter Eliza has Down syndrome, voiced what park organizers hoped when they first conceived of the idea, “I envision her being here and playing here way up into adulthood. This just will be a fun place for her.”
Designer and landscape architect Camille Calderaro, of Fireflies Play Environments, represented Goric in the project, assisting in the selection and customization of the slides. “I’m just very proud to be a part of something that made the effort to reach out and include everybody,” she said. “This is what makes people feel good. This makes people feel like people care.”
She recalls the meeting when she first became involved in the development of the park. It was in 2017 when Calderaro was brought in by Damon Farber, the lead design firm to talk with them and the citizen committee about equipment options. Among the spinners, swings and climbing zones they knew they want, it was accessible slides that captured their imagination.
Though it would be two years before the equipment would be ordered, having long, tall slides that didn’t require wheelchair ramps to be accessible prompted the shaping of the park.
“Imagine,” said Calderaro, “They took a huge corner lot, a big empty corner lot and scooped it out. They sculpted out a 10 foot drop for a sliding bowl. So they were looking for some custom slides. That’s how they tapped into Goric.”
In typical playgrounds, where slides are at ground level, designers must incorporate long and expensive ramps to make them accessible to those with mobility challenges. By digging out a depression, both the entrance and the exits of the Trane slides are at ground level, eliminating ramping. At Trane All-Abilities Park, the bowl is almost the size of a football field.
Calderaro and Goric customized the slides and the transfer points, the places top and bottom, where sliders of all abilities can easily get on and off by themselves or with just a little help. For sliders who need assistance the bottom “dignity landing” allows them to scoot to the side and take their time to disembark. These patented landings are used by permission of the Magical Bridge Foundation. Short slides were designed for the youngest children. Bigger, longer and twisting slides were designed for older kids and adults.
The park has an entire slide zone with seating, an outdoor stage and a tunnel leading to a grassy climbing zone. There’s also a fitness area for adults, courtesy of the AARP. The sheltered area includes a bench with a phone recharging station.
Within hours of the opening on June 2nd, the All Abilities Trane Park Project Facebook page was filled with photos of smiling children and adults and comments expressing joy and appreciation.
“It was SO MAGICAL to see my little buddy finally have FUN at a playground!” one person wrote. “Thank you to everyone who made this project a reality – you have my most sincere appreciation.”