Excitement Fills the Air for an Upcoming Park in the Iowa Great Lakes!
It may seem like a huge undertaking for some people but Hope Rolls – Dickinson County is excited to raise a million dollars for an accessible community playground for all ages and abilities located near the Spirit Lake football, baseball, and softball fields and Little League Park. The non-profit organization is planning a large inclusive area, a sensory space, and a ninja course for 13+, as well as an area for outdoor fitness for ages 13-99.
“It will be a beautiful park created for young and old—for all abilities,” said Hope Rolls organizer Maria Mellmann. “The closest inclusive park to this area is over a hundred miles away in Sioux City. There also aren’t a lot of options for older children or the older generation at parks, which is why we wanted to create a place where an entire family can play together.
The Spirit Lake School District gave Hope Rolls ground space of 30,000 square feet to install the inclusive play equipment. A pebbleflex surface will be installed on top, with a drainage system built underneath the base.
“This surface is especially important for stability and those pushing strollers or wheelchairs,” Co-organizer Shanna Clabaugh explained. “There are many in our community who need that solid surface. Many times, other surface options limit their ability or make it unusable for them to enjoy.”
Creating a Park for Everyone
The Brown family fully understands these complications, as their son Hayden is wheelchair bound but this doesn't keep him from enjoying a playground. However, many times the surface or the equipment prevent him from being able to play or even observe.
“We are always aware that most places aren’t fully equipped for a kiddo like Hayden, so we are always trying to modify and make environments work for him to the best of our abilities,” his mother Lindsay Brown said.
Things the family looks for at a location are accessibility into places or are the entrances wide enough or level enough for them to easily navigate. Can they lower the ramp so their son can leave the van safely?
At the same time, many of the outdoor spaces are accessible but don’t have terrain that’s manageable for a wheelchair.
“I am super excited that this park will have turf so we will not have to worry about getting through the mulch or pea gravel. Hayden will be able to access all of the locations with the turf surface,” she shared. “We also look for bathroom areas to ‘freshen up,’ as most places do not have accommodations for teen/adult where he can go to the bathroom without having to lay on the icky bathroom floor or on a blanket out in the open for all to see. It would be wonderful to see more area locations include accessible bathrooms with a large permanent changing station that would accommodate larger individuals.”
Beth Toliver, Clabaugh and Mellmann have been the driving force behind the creation of this new park. Other volunteers have been Amy Benge and Jen Johnson-Ross. The group has been writing grants and holding fundraisers, with the hope of raising the million dollars during 2021. At this time, almost $28,000 has been raised.
Mellmann held interviews with local families in town and those who often visit, getting suggestions and ideas. Her niece Brenna is also an inspiration to her and the aspiration for Hope Rolls – Dickinson County.
“Brenna has down syndrome and she was gifted with a specialized bike from an organization in LeMars called Josh’s Ride. We saw how much delight Brenna had with her new ability to bike, and it made me think we could do the same thing in the Lakes area,” Mellmann shared.
Having also worked at Hope Haven for 12 years, Mellmann wanted to find a way to help kids participate in some of the activities able children normally enjoy. Since 2019, Hope Rolls has raised funds to purchase specialized bikes or trailers for nine children in Dickinson County.
“Our goal is to give one each quarter; it is one of the best feelings you get when you surprise them with a bike. It means so much to these kids and they are so excited,” she said. “The creation of this park comes from seeing the delight in these kids. We helped them get a ride; now we want to build a park they can ride too and then enjoy with their friends.”
For her niece Brenna, she won’t walk across mulch without a death grip hold. Having a stable surface will remove that fear. The playground equipment is developed by Miracle League and is science backed for an inclusive park. The pieces combined will display the colors of the rainbow. A certified installation team will put the park together.
Clabaugh said many people don’t realize how many individuals in the community and region aren’t able to participate on a regular playground. According to statistics, Dickinson County has 633 children and 1,625 adults that struggle with current park options.
“These numbers don’t include the tourists or surrounding communities that visit the area on a regular basis,” Clabaugh said. “Also, it isn’t always the kids who aren’t able to play and climb. Sometimes it’s the parents or grandparents and they want to be able to join their children in the middle of the action as well—to actually be able to do something as a family.”
Intelligent Turf and Greens will be installing the turf once the drainage system is in place. There will be a two-inch foam pad included so if someone falls, it will lessen surface impact.
The Ninja course will be for 13 and older, but the developers have said younger kids will also enjoy aspects of the equipment. Some of the pieces of the fit course are over and under bars, a balance beam, rope climb, peg bridge, wheel bridge, high step, unstable bridge, vertical cargo net, globe grasp, angled overhead ladder, jump steps, and more.
“There aren’t a lot of places designed to involve older kids. I have also heard the local PE teachers are excited about how the park can be incorporated into some of their classes,” Mellmann added.
Another area of the park will be designed for the younger aged children and those with other needs, with equipment like a giant disc, accessible swing for transition, friendship swing, and inclusive ramps and boogie board. The ramps have zero steps and provide the idea the child is going down a slide, even if they are still in their wheelchair.
Each of the pieces will have a plaque, which will include the name of a donor as well as a QR code for an explanation of how to use the equipment.
There is a sensory section that Clabaugh said the younger kids will love, as well as those who may struggle with sensory issues. The 25-foot zipline will be a favorite, and the global motion has a ground level entrance where kids can spin slowly. The merry-go-round allows for a wheelchair to be locked in, eliminating the struggle of trying to get a child in and out of their chair and into straps.
Brown is so thankful for Hope Rolls passion and willingness to help others.
“Hope Rolls is closing a gap for this community where it’s exceptional individuals were limited. This organization has recognized the need to accommodate a group of people who would otherwise be (and sadly, often still are) unacceptably excluded, not by the virtue of their own limitations, but by the environments we once created,” she said.
Another aspect of the playground is being specially designed for the older generation. Along the outside, stations will be located with equipment to help with balance and strength. Some of the equipment will be row and push-up bars, balance movement and motion, pull ups and dip station, Tai Chi wheels movement, balance steps, a walking ramp, stretch bar twist, balance steps, and an outdoor elliptical.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are also pieces geared for babies and toddlers.
“The best part is the park is designed for everyone! Whether it’s a piece where a wheelchair can roll in and enjoy, while the person’s friends also can join in and climb around them to using the sensory wall panels in the music center, we are making sure this park can be used by everyone," Mellmann said.
For more information on Hope Rolls-Dickinson County, visit their Facebook page. If you’d like to donate to the project and make a difference in countless lives, Venmo: hope-rolls, go fund me: gofund.me/0fe66012, or checks can be dropped off at Central Bank in Spirit Lake.
“We as a society have evolved. We have learned how to structure spaces, buildings, and communities that work, not just for a privileged few, but for everyone,” Brown said. “As Maya Angelou said, ‘When you know better, do better.’ We know better. So, we should do better! Please consider a donation to Hope Rolls, so we can ensure that the Lakes region is a community for everyone. This will be something many families will enjoy, especially ours.”