New inclusive playground at Hugh MacRae Park nears completion

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A new inclusive playground is currently under construction at Hugh MacRae Park. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
A new inclusive playground is currently under construction at Hugh MacRae Park. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

Construction is well underway on the new, inclusive children’s play area at Hugh MacRae Park.

Thanks to a $750,000 grant from Trillium Health Resources, New Hanover County is able to build a playground for children of all abilities.

“It will be all inclusive and fully inclusive,” said Tara Duckworth, the county’s Parks and Gardens director. “It has a lot of unique features that cover the full spectrum of playing abilities.”

Those features include spinning chairs that can accommodate kids with mobility devices, rubberized flooring that makes it easier to move wheelchairs and walkers around while still providing cushion as well as a Liberty Swing, which are made for those in wheelchairs.

“We took into account children with special needs,” Duckworth said of the design of the approximately 7,000-square-foot play area. “We painted everything in bright colors for the visually impaired, we created quiet areas for those with autism, everything is wider for those with mobility devices and there is plenty of shade for those with conditions that make them sensitive to the sun.”

The new playground is being constructed where the old one, which was built for children up to age 12, used to be. Across the way, the smaller playground for younger children is still open. That will be changing soon, as that area will be turned into the first splash pad operated by the county (the City of Wilmington currently runs one in their parks system).

“We’re really excited about that,” Duckworth said. “I’ve also wanted to do a splash pad but haven’t had the opportunity until now.”

As it will be constructed using money from the grant, it will also be inclusive.

“Even though we live on the coast, if you’re in a mobility device, you don’t always go to the water because it’s hard to get into a pool or onto the beach,” said Duckworth. “To help with that, we’ll also be purchasing a wheelchair made out of PVC piping [which are used on the beach] to make the splash pad accessible to everyone.”

Work on the splash pad will begin as soon as the bigger playground is completed or close to it, so that one play area will be open at all times. Construction on the larger area began in late April and is expected to be done by the second week of July. Duckworth said they hope to have the 2,700-square-foot splash pad operational before the end of the summer.

She also noted the reason they chose to build the new facilities at Hugh MacRae park: its central location.

“We thought it important to have the playground right in the middle of town be inclusive,” Duckworth said. “It’s on a bus route, there are lots of trails to walk or bike there and there’s always lots of people there.”

The old playground set is also being repurposed to create a new area at the recently dedicated Northern Regional Park. Though Duckworth said the county would love to make the majority, if not all, children’s play areas in parks more inclusive, the cost of the projects don’t make it feasible. Wrightsville Beach recently installed one at their town park, but that was also made possible through a smaller Trillium grant.

“I’ve never built a $750,000 playground in my career, and I don’t know if I’ll ever build another one,” Duckworth said. “But if there are other [similar] grants out there, we’re definitely all for it.”

For now, Duckworth and her staff are excited about the current project.

“We tried to put in the extra touches that would make it good for everyone,” Duckworth said. “It’s not meant to be a playground just for those that are differently abled. It’s for all kids to come together and play together and have fun in one place, and we’re excited for it to open.”