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Wyoming Tribune-Eagle (Cheyenne)
CHEYENNE — Eight months after it broke ground, a universally-accessible playground at Cheyenne's Cahill Park was officially opened to the public Saturday.
And within the first hour alone, the new playground was already well-used as dozens of children crawled, ran, swung and laughed their way up, down and around its many features.
The Cahill Park playground is the culmination of several years' worth of design, conceptual planning and grassroots fundraising, which brought in more than $1.3 million from grants, businesses, civic groups and individuals to see the playground become a reality. What makes it special is the variety of equipment and amenities that allows the playground to be used by anyone regardless of age or ability.
"Having an inclusive playground for people of all abilities and all generations to enjoy together has been a dream of many children, parents, grandparents, the city, the Mayor's Council for People with Disabilities, teachers, therapists, and on and on," said Teresa Moore, the city's director of Community Recreation and Events. "Playgrounds can be a frustrating and not-so-fun place for those with differing abilities. But when you build an inclusive-built environment such as this playground, it changes what socially is possible and begins to change how we define normal."
Mayor Marian Orr, who formally cut a ribbon on the playground just after 8:15 a.m., said she had been deliberately avoiding seeing the playground until it was entirely built. Having finally had the chance to see it, she said it was hard not to be emotional about what it means for the city and its children.
"I still get choked up thinking about not only what we now have in our community - a truly inclusive playground - but I think at least in the long time I've been in Cheyenne, for many of us in recent memory, there has not been such a project that has been so inclusive of the entire community," Orr said. "The donor sheet, it's huge. Every organization, every corner of our community has been a part of making today happen."
Monica Puente, whose Friendship Playground fundraising group helped raise a large portion of the playground's costs, said while many city projects rely on fundraising, it's rare to see a project where so much of the fundraising is from individual donors giving freely.
"If you could put in a small amount or you could put in a large amount, we wanted folks to know that they were paying and covering the cost for the entire facility, and I think that made a difference," Puente said. "Because people realized that they could make a contribution and be a part of something wonderful on any scale."
Describing the final product as "our dream and more," Puente said it's hard to describe how the finished playground - which also includes a walking path, informational kiosks, an outdoor classroom and adult fitness pods - not only met but exceeded what the city had planned for it.
"There aren't words to say what it actually turned out to be, but it will speak for itself in how wonderful it is and the wonderful things we're going to see happening here for friends, family, for every citizen," she said. "In my own heart, I have felt that this project has been blessed on a grander scale than I could probably express. But whenever I reflect on this facility, I'm going to feel honored to know we lent a helping hand."
The parents and children present Saturday were similarly impressed. Gregg Smith and his wife, Paula, looked on as their daughter, Kellie, an incoming fourth grader at Saddle Ridge Elementary School, took turns climbing up the playground's central tower to ride a big yellow slide.
"Her school raised a lot of money to build this park, and she was really excited to come see it and play on it," Gregg said. "I'm almost speechless. It's a lot more than I expected; I expected some toys here that would be accessible to all kids, but nothing like this."
Kellie said she and her fellow Saddle Ridge students had raised hundreds of dollars a day to help make the playground a reality, and while she was excited at the possibilities, she too felt the finished product had exceeded her expectations.
"I didn't expect it to be like this," she said. "It's going to be a great way for children to come and play every day, no matter what they are, what their disabilities are."
As for her favorite playground feature, both Kellie and her friend and fellow fourth-grader Madelyn Artery agreed it was the slide.
"It's the best," Madelyn added.
Seeing the playground firsthand was an emotional experience for Shellie Holzhausen, a Cheyenne resident who was the winner of the most recent Ms. Wheelchair Wyoming pageant, part of a nationwide pageant that seeks to highlight the
accomplishments of women with disabilities. Holzhausen said she's confined to a wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis as well as numerous back surgeries.
"I have lost the muscle tone in my legs and I can't build the strength in my legs anymore, so I don't have the use of them," Holzhausen said. "So I've been following this playground very closely; in fact it's one of my platform projects. I'm trying to get it to where every community in our state, and hopefully the world if I become Miss (Wheelchair) USA, has a wheelchair-accessible or all-inclusive park."
Having given it a test run earlier that morning, Holzhausen said she was able to navigate the playground's soft turf easily with her wheelchair, and could get to the top of the slide tower thanks to a ramped bridge. That meant a lot, she said, since she would be able to accompany her grandson all over the playground without anything impeding her.
"It's so important for kids who are disabled to be able to play with each other and not sit on the sidelines, and for parents to be able to play for their kids if they are in wheelchairs themselves," Holzhausen said. "Now they don't have to sit on the sidelines. I'm so excited that this is open; it shows how important it is to our community that we care about our people here, and hopefully other cities will follow our example and we'll be able to get more of these."
James Chilton is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's local government reporter. He can be reached at [email protected] or 307-633-3182.
Follow him on Twitter at @JournoJChilton.
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