The response has been both immediate and positive.
When North Port city officials cut the ribbon on the Boundless Adventures Playground at the Garden of the Five Senses, they weren’t sure what kind of response they would get.
Boundless was different from most playgrounds because it offered access to physically handicapped children. Some of the equipment was designed for the disabled, and some was designed for the able-bodied. But all of it was designed for everybody to play.
“The main driving force of this was really not just having an accessible playground but an inclusive playground,” said Tricia Wisner, the city’s parks and recreation manager. “You’ll see a lot of accessible playgrounds at rehabilitation centers, children’s hospitals. You’ll have the wheelchair swing or there’s the wheelchair rocker — something specific for that limited mobility. But you won’t see a great playground for a mom who has a child in a wheelchair and a child who is able-bodied in the same place at the same time.
“So that means, if you’re in a wheelchair, you only play with wheelchair kids. There’s not that place where everybody, regardless of ability, can play on the same piece of equipment.”
Boundless is that place. And that’s why officials weren’t sure what would happen when the playground opened Dec. 15. They built it. But would anyone come?
On the morning after Christmas, the playground was jumping. Kids were all over the place – in the section for kids ages 2 to 5 and the section for kids ages 5 to 12. Parents and grandparents watched them play, chatted with each other, sat at benches. If there was a complaint it was that the park lacked a fence along the tree line to the woods.
Otherwise, Pan American Boulevard was a happening place.
As it turned out, there had been no need to worry.
“It is extraordinarily popular,” Wisner said. “We’re really, really happy with the feedback we’ve gotten from the community.”
Jamie Costello lives in North Port about five miles from the park. She was there for the first time, with her 4-year-old son, Logan, who is able-bodied.
“We used to live right down the street,” she said. “For years, we wished that they would have had playground here.”
She bumped into a friend, Stacey Burke, who was there for the second time with her son. Also named Logan. Also 4 years old. Small world, except Stacey came from Port Charlotte.
“We love it,” Stacey said. “This is a great park.”
The idea for the project was first brought forward in 2016. It went through many permutations – “North Port loves to tweak and improve,” Wisner smiled — and several calls for public input before it was put together. It is 249 feet long and varies in width. It’s about 10,000 square feet in all. There’s a rubberized surface to walk on and plenty of shade. It features 51 pieces of equipment, including a wheelchair swing. The cost was $589,000.
Parks, said Wisner, are great teachers. “Think of all you learn at a playground: gravity, centripetal force, the value of sharing, taking turns, bravery, imagination.
“They’re such important places. Everybody should get to play. It’s wonderful to have a place where everybody feels it was made for them.”