Visalia to build first inclusive play area in the South Valley

$7.8 million grant will build park for children with special needs on 1.25 acres next to ImagineU in downtown

VISALIA – Already home to the state’s first certified autism tourism organization and golf course, Visalia will soon boast the first inclusive park in Tulare County and the southern San Joaquin Valley.

On Dec. 8, the city was awarded a $7.8 million grant from California’s Office of Grants and Local Services to build an inclusive park designed for children with autism and other special needs.

“Today’s grant announcement marks a step forward for our community, it is the culmination of community support, citizen feedback and strong partnerships,” Mayor Steve Nelsen said last week. “This grant will allow us to create Visalia’s first inclusive playground, a playground that will truly be built to serve children of all abilities.”

Visalia’s park would be the first inclusive park in Tulare County and just the 11th inclusive park in the state, according to California Making Accessible Possible (MAP), which tracks inclusive play structures in the state. The nearest inclusive park is Oso de Oro Lake Park in Fresno, which was specific designed for children in wheelchairs including a wheelchair basketball court.

“Bridge Horizons Play Park will change the way we view play, it will be a gift to the city of Visalia,” provided Jeremy Rogers, community services director. “The vision and feedback from our residents, our City Council and all those who took part in helping us prepare and apply for this funding brought us to this historic day.”

The Park will be located on a 1.25-acre lot east of ImagineU Children’s Museum, along the Mill Creek Trail. A celebration of Visalia’s heritage with a look towards the future, the Park will consist of three main sections. The sensory rich exploration areas of the Sequoia Grove Inclusive Playground will be home to a rootball cozy space, a Sequoia tree hut, a sensory wall, and a sensory dome cone.

The Music and Story Meadow will be a community centered, and child directed experience, with dance chimes, a singing stone, and an outdoor stage. The River Bottom Water Play Zone will be powered by kids, not electricity, and feature interactive climbing features, spouts, spray zones and more.

Planned in partnership with Unlimited Play, Inc., Bridge Horizons Play Park will serve the entire community.

“Our planning partners at Unlimited Play have really shown us how the benefits of inclusive playgrounds extend to able-bodied children as well,” added Rogers. “This will be a space where children learn and grow from interacting with others who are in some ways different from them. It also allows adults with disabilities to play in spaces with their children. It will be a space that is truly for everyone.”

Unlimited Play

The company’s tag line is “Play is not a spectator sport” and they specialize in universally accessible playgrounds to promote health and wellness and growth development for all children and families.

According to their web site, the majority of playgrounds around the world deny children, adults, and Veterans with disabilities the opportunity for recreation, enrichment, and social interaction which other people enjoy. Only a small percentage of fully accessible playgrounds exist within the United States and are insufficient to serve the 56.7 million Americans with Disabilities, or about 18.7% of the nation’s population. It also points out this generation is more sedentary than any generation in history—with 24 hour, multiple channel television programming, gaming systems, and the explosion of digital devices keeping children from going outside to explore, run, and play.

“Unlimited Play addresses this shortfall by providing a place where people of all abilities play together, learn from one another, value differences and find strength to overcome challenges,” the web site states.

Unlimited Play says the benefits of inclusive playgrounds extend to able-bodied children as well who learn and grow from interacting with children who are in some ways different from them. It also allows adults with disabilities to play in spaces with their children.

“Families with disabilities … find the playgrounds to be a place where ‘typical’ family activities can be enjoyed and differences made to appear minimal as family integration happens,” the web site says.

Unlimited Play primarily works in Missouri, Arizona, Kansas, Texas and Arkansas but has recently began a project in Sacramento. The nearest completed project will be located in Show Low, Ariz. where the Frontier Park Playground with a play structure features Western flair with a general store, blacksmith’s shop, saloon and water tower. The $1.2 million project has raised about 95% of the funding needed to complete the project.

For more information, contact Jeremy Rogers, city of Visalia community services director at [email protected] or 559-713-4365.

Tulare County is a go for more parks

Visalia was among 112 agencies to receive a portion of $548.3 million announced by the California State Parks on Dec. 8 funded by Proposition 68. Known as the California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access for All Act, Prop. 68 was approved by voters in 2018. Awarded through the Statewide Park Development and Community Revitalization Grant Program, the recent grants represent the single-largest investment in state history in expanding access to parks in underserved communities, with new or enhanced parks funded in every region of California.

“California State Parks is incredibly proud to announce grant funding for projects that will improve access to parks and open space and contribute to a better quality of life for so many Californians,” said California state parks director Armando Quintero. “Many of these projects will become a source of community pride, thanks to neighborhood residents, local park agencies and non-profit organizations who worked together to design vibrant parks reflecting each community’s unique needs and creativity.”

A list of other local projects is below:

Porterville: Porterville isn’t just getting a new park, it’s building a new community center. The city was awarded $7.8 million to build its Fourth Street Community Park Project. In addition to a community center, the park will include a splash pad, obstacle course, a mini pitch soccer arena, walking trail, an artwall, BMX bicycle pump track, four exercise stations and a parking lot. The entire project will be located adjacent to its Rails to Trails corridor off of Henderson Avenue at Fourth Street. The project is set for completion in fall 2024.

Woodlake: Tulare County’s smallest incorporated city will build a new park as well. The city of Woodlake was awarded $8.4 million to build Antelope Creek Park at Sierra Avenue and Mulberry Street. The money will be used to construct a skate park, BMX bicycle pump track, 1-mile-long trail, soccer field, baseball field, softball field, exercise area, basketball courts, volleyball courts, ADA-compliant playgrounds, picnic areas, dog park, drought tolerant gardens, concessions stand, murals, and restrooms.

“The city of Woodlake is thrilled to see an investment of this magnitude in our community,” Mayor Rudy Mendoza said. “Antelope Creek Park will dramatically expand access to recreation and improve the quality of life for our residents and surrounding community. We look forward to building this park and are grateful that California State Parks saw the need for this project and awarded this grant.”

Poplar: It wasn’t just cities who made the most recent award list in Tulare County. The community services district serving the unincorporated community of Poplar received $1.2 million to upgrade and improve Poplar Community Park. The money will construct a perimeter walking/jogging track, playground, community garden, outdoor exercise station area, multi-purpose room and kitchen, and restroom. It will also renovate the soccer/baseball/softball field by adding lighting, and make improvements to the basketball court, grass field, picnic/barbecue area, parking lot, and landscaping and lighting throughout the park.

Other South Valley park projects funded by Prop. 68 include $1.9 million to the city of Arvin to renovate Kovacevich Park Field of Dreams, $3.8 million to the city of Shafter to build the North Shafter Community Park, $8.5 million to the city of Hanford for Heroes Park, $1.2 million to the city of Kingsburg to renovate the Kingsburg Dog Park, and $1.8 million for the city of Orange Cove to build the Sequoia View Community Park.

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