2 New Playgrounds Bring Accessibility and Fun to Southeast Michigan

A pair of new Metroparks playgrounds utilize a unique design, equipment, colors, and shade structures to improve accessibility options for southeast Michigan residents drastically. 

Designers created the Maple Beach playground at Kensington Metropark and the Woods Creek playground at Lower Huron Metropark to offer everyone from young children to seniors the opportunity to connect with each other and the outdoors.

“If kids are on playgrounds, it allows them to build that sense of imagination as they’re improving their physical health,” said Metroparks Chief of Marketing and Communications Danielle Mauter. 

Recent research shows kids are playing outdoors less than in previous generations. For example, a 2012 study published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine found that just 51% of kids went outside to play once a day. And a 2018 survey from Kamik found that kids were 35% less likely to play outdoors than their parents did. 

That trend could be problematic for development. The National Association for the Education of Young Children cites several studies that highlight the critical benefits of outdoor play for children, including:

  • Science education
  • Social interaction and collaboration
  • Physical activity
  • Creation of intentional learning activities
  • Improved and higher quality sleep
  • Appropriate risk-taking education
  • Better learning outcomes
  • STEM skills

“It gets them away from screens. It gets them more active,” Mauter said. “It means they’re playing with kids their own age, and they’re getting those social and imagination skills as they’re playing together.”

Maple Beach Playground

The Maple Beach playground at Kensington Metropark opened in May 2021 and utilizes universally accessible design principles that go above and beyond the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) regulations. The universally accessible design follows seven key principles:

  • Equitable use
  • Flexibility in use
  • Simple and intuitive use
  • Perceptible information
  • Tolerance for error
  • Low physical effort
  • Size and space approach for use

Playground visitors, including people using wheelchairs, can go right up onto play structures. This feature allows everyone to play right next to kids, regardless of ability level. 

“It also has pieces that cater to those with differing levels of cognitive ability,” Mauter added.

The playground’s We-Go-Round is a visitor favorite. We-Go-Rounds are an evolution of a traditional merry-go-round with a design flush to the ground, allowing anyone to walk or roll onto it. They can then leverage the mechanism in the middle to spin around for that dizzy fun everyone can enjoy.

“Wheelchair users and nonwheelchair users can actually use it to play together!” Mauter said.

The playground also has a poured-in-place rubber surface rather than more traditional surfaces like sand, mulch, or gravel. 

“It’s really helpful for those in wheelchairs or who have mobility disabilities,” Mauter said. “It allows for a surface easier to travel across and has a spongy texture.”

The playground designers also paid particular attention to anyone experiencing cognitive disabilities by including educational elements and an intentional color and shade structure.

“There are areas that are shaded in case kids have sensory issues,” Mauter said. “There are also elements that involve the senses of touch and sound. One area incorporates braille as well.”

 

Woods Creek Playground

Woods Creek Playground at Lower Huron Metropark opened in fall 2021 and has a space-themed design that makes it one of Metroparks’ most popular playgrounds. 

“People love that!” Mauter said. 

The playground’s centerpiece is its Hedra Tower. In this tall tower, visitors can climb to the top via nets to stand on the circular platform with windows and a giant slide.

“Kids love to climb it and pretend they’re flying a rocket,” Mauter said. “I personally have gone down the slide at the Hedra Tower; it’s a lot of fun!”

It also includes numerous pieces of equipment designed with accessibility in mind, such as:

  • A poured-in-place rubber surface
  • A We-Go-Round
  • Accessible swings featuring a bucket seat and a harness, a flying saucer, and standard swings

“Woods Creek was a large playground project, so we can consider it to be a signature playground in that community,” Mauter said. “It’s very popular. It’s had some great use this summer.”

The Woods Creek playground is also a parking lot away from the Turtle Cove Aquatic Center. Lower Huron Metropark’s massive water facility includes water slides, a lazy river, a dumping bucket, and a zero-depth entry pool.

“Metroparks is really focused on all the people, all their lives,” Mauter said. “Play is a really important piece of that. It starts with kids and then carries on to adults. Making sure everyone can enjoy the playgrounds and parks as a whole is a significant part of what we do.”

Accessibility

Mauter also said one of the challenges some southeast Michigan residents face when it comes to getting outdoors is transportation. 

The Metroparks Express, a collaboration between Huron-Clinton Metroparks and SMART, launched in September 2021. It allows people to leverage on-demand service from the Gratiot & 15 Mile bus stop to Lake St. Clair Metropark.

“The Metroparks can be a bit of a distance from some folks,” Mauter said. “By offering Metroparks Express and possibly other similar services in the future, it allows us to break down some of those transportation barriers.”

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One of America’s premier metropolitan park systems, the Huron-Clinton Metroparks have served the people of Southeast Michigan since 1940. Managed by the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority, the Metroparks are made up of 13 properties in Livingston, Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties. Available activities include fishing, swimming, boating, hiking, nature study, biking, golf, winter sports and more. The Metroparks also provide educational resources on science, nature, history and the environment. Learn more at Metroparks.com.

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