During her recent “State of the City” address, Bryant Mayor Jill Dabbs stressed the importance of connectivity. The approach she outlined was simply, but effectively stated as Walk, Bike, Drive. “Streets must connect to schools, schools to neighborhoods, neighborhoods to parks.”
As part of the great outdoors in Bryant, the city has embarked on what parks director Chris Treat describes as unique to the area. “This will be a destination park, a facility that will not only be used by local residents, but will draw visitors from outlying areas in search of a means to experience the fun of play.”
The park is one of a new trend of playground described as an “All-Inclusive Park,” with equipment that goes beyond simple accessibility for people with disabilities. The design is not just for children, but for adults as well. The playground will be located in Mills Park.
“There are parents who are disabled and have children who are not, but can still drive and need accessibility when they get to where they are going”, says Mayor Dabbs. “This will give that parent the ability to take their children to the playground and have access.” One such parent, Erin Gildner, a mother who was in a car accident and is bound to a wheelchair, is a strong advocate of this playground. The new playground will give her, and other disabled parents, the opportunity to interact with their children on the playground, rather than merely sit on the sidelines as has so often been the case in the past.
The idea for such a park began several years ago when a discussion began with then park director Brandon Griffen, Mayor Dabbs and GameTime, a playground apparatus manufacturer. The idea started to gain momentum. Mayor Dabbs and Treat began to seek the means to make it happen.
A grant of $250,000 was awarded to the city, but additional funds were needed. A recent bond issue helped fill some of the expense gap, especially with the commitment of $10,000 from Susie and Dwight Everett, on the condition that the bond issue pass with voters. Mayor Dabbs and Susie Everett went as far as to film a video outlining the project and encouraging voters to go to the polls. Seeing the dedication of the city, volunteers and local businesses, the bond issue passed.
Other parks of this type exist in East End, North Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas, but the Bryant facility will be the largest All-Inclusive park of its kind in the state at approximately one acre. The All-Inclusive playground will feature apparatuses that don’t appear much different from other playground pieces, but will function with a greater purpose in mind. Mulch will not be used near the equipment. Instead, “pour-in-place” surfacing will provide required cushioning along with the ability to allow easy access to every area by wheelchairs, strollers, walkers and wagons. The swing sets, according to Treat, are designed “so that children with a disability can swing next to and along with children and adults without disabilities. This playground isn’t just for individuals with disabilities, it’s for all adults and children. It isn’t specifically for the disabled only.”
Allen Scott, a city council member in Bryant, knows firsthand the difficulty associated with taking a disabled child to the park. His daughter is a young adult, but requires daily care from Scott due to a disability. Scott noted that attending to his daughter’s hygiene needs is particularly difficult at playgrounds, requiring several trips to the car. A new bathroom at the Inclusive Playground will be designed specifically to alleviate what can be a difficult task in an environment lacking in privacy. Both the male and female bathrooms will include an adult changing table for this specific purpose.
But progress doesn’t end with the new playground, and Bryant isn’t sitting on its laurels after getting the All-Inclusive Park off the ground. Several additional projects in various stages of planning and construction will gradually realize Mayor Dabbs’ original vision of connectivity and the great outdoors.
The pool and associated buildings at the Mills Park location have been completely renovated. Additionally, plans for improvements to the several miles of mountain bike paths at the park are expected soon.
A new restroom facility at Mills Park will be out for bid soon with construction expected to be complete in May 2018.
Bishop Park is slated for interior renovations at The Center. New shade structures and a building for grounds crew and equipment have been completed, or are out to bid. A new disc golf course has been completed and is now in use. Parking lot and landscaping improvements are in process, with completion expected later this fall.
Approximately 40 acres of land have been purchased west of Midland Park, north of Interstate 30, for a park that will include additional soccer fields as well as walking and biking trails. A Dog Park and a leash-free walking trail are also in the works.
Mayor Dabbs and Chris Treat agree: a good parks plan drives the engine of economic development.