Denison officials, members of the Denison Rotary Club and local residents came together Friday to celebrate the opening of new playground equipment and amenities in Forest Park. The $300,000 park project includes improvements designed to be accessible to all Denison residents.
“Today is a special day for our city,” Sunny Mackey, director of community engagement, said. “This is the first all-inclusive park in Denison with equipment, furnishings and splash pad designed to be accessible to all users.”
Among those in attendance for Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony were Sarah Hunter and her daughter Layla. For the past several weeks, Hunter said her sons have been excited about the new park and have been asking her when it would be open.
Layla uses a wheelchair and has several health concerns, including microcephaly. It’s especially challenging because her siblings have no mobility issues, Hunter said.
“I cried when we first read the articles about the park,” Hunter said. “We’ve come here for years, but were only able to put her in a swing while her brothers played.”
The new park features include a splash pad, sidewalks, a pavilion and a playground with train-themed equipment in Yellow Jackets’ colors. This equipment was chosen to pay homage to the city’s railroad heritage and history as a hub of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad, officials said. Development Services Director Gabe Reaume noted that the playground features rubberized surfaces that are thicker in places children are likely to fall.
Mackey said the project makes Forest Park the first in the city to offer amenities that are accessible to all users, including those with mobility limitations. These features include zero-profile sidewalks, small ramps and a lack of lips or steps along the surfaces. As an example of this, there is no gap or raised surface between the entrance to the playground and the attached sidewalk.
Hunter said she feels the improvements to Forest Park represent a focus by the city on all members of the public. “I’ve always said Denison needs to be more considerate of special-needs families,” she said.
Work on the park project first started in 2015 when the city partnered with the Denison Rotary Club to finance the improvements. Under an agreement with the city, the Rotary Club provided $100,000 toward the $300,000 project as part of its 100th anniversary in the city. This came just one year after the city unveiled improvements and upgrades to Munson Stadium and the adjoining Touchdown Alley.
Robert Crawley, past president of the Denison Rotary Club, said members first discussed raising funds for improvements in 2013 when some equipment was removed from the park.
“The consensus was that it was a shame that we don’t have anything in the park for the kids,” he said. “Someone came up with the idea that since it was our 100th anniversary why don’t we raise $100,000. I don’t think we were in our right minds because that was a very large amount.”
Work on the improvements started in January and was completed over the Memorial Day weekend. City officials said the concrete for the sidewalks needed time to cure, delaying the opening until June.
Beyond being the first fully-accessible playground in the city, City Manager Jud Rex also noted that it is the first splash pad in a city park. Rex said he hopes the improvements will encourage healthy living and wellness in downtown Denison and bring more people to the city’s core.
“I’ve got a three-year-old who is going to run this place into the ground,” Rex joked, “which is good because my couch won’t be a trampoline any longer.”