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Leo's Landing

Universally Inclusive Playground in Lake Murray

Meet Leo.

Who is Leo, you may ask? Leo is a Lake Murray native, a dreamer, a visionary, and an awesome kid who hoped for something different. Leo, 10 years old, is the inspiration and namesake for the beloved and innovative “Leo’s Landing” found at Saluda Shoals Park.

Lake Murray Lifestyle had the pleasure of speaking with the Bugenske family who are Leo’s parents. Their determination and dedication to change are such a gift to the Lake Murray community. What started as a brilliant dream turned into reality with the support and vision of local families, the community, and experts in the field. 

Two weeks after Adam and Meredith welcomed their son, Leo, into the world, they learned of a significant diagnosis that would impact their lives forever. Looking back, Adam reflects upon the fact that this diagnosis changed their lives in all the best ways. It opened their eyes to the amazing opportunity of being a parent and caregiver to a child with exceptional needs. Meredith and Leo loved going on runs together in the beautiful Saluda Shoals Park. When they would reach the playground, Leo would long to be out there playing with the other kids. But growing up in a wheelchair has its barriers and limits accessibility. As Meredith watched her son, she knew she wanted to pursue the life they had intended for their children- a life of adventure, excitement, and experiences. So, she got to work.

Before the Leo’s Pride Foundation (leospride.org) came to be, Meredith and Adam gathered every resource, contact, and connection they had to send out a plea to make much needed changes and modifications to the community. They knew that with the community involved, they would make a huge impact. Meredith sent a mass email and it just took one reply to get the ball moving. Elizabeth Taylor, from the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission, stated that she was apologetic for the gap in accessibility, but wanted to hear from them and was determined to fix this. 

The first step towards change was an accessible playground piece that was added to Crooked Creek Park. While this was a step in the right direction, Ms. Taylor wanted the Bugenske family to know that this was just a temporary fix. She knew their vision was much bigger than this, but she wanted Leo to have something now. 

So began great conversations between Leo and his family, Saluda Shoals, Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission, inclusive playground consultants, parenting experts, teachers, and physical and occupational therapists. The goal was to create a universally inclusive playground that was thoughtfully and carefully researched to reach all community members. No matter someone’s age or ability, children would feel like this place was built for them. The majority of the funding for this project was through private donations. Without having to use taxpayer money, this project truly became a community driven project. 

Phase 1 of Leo’s Landing was a huge success. Not only was it fulfilling to see children loving the playground everyday, but Leo’s Landing was featured on playground magazines, and became an example among inclusivity and playground design. People traveled from near and far to take their family to the playground as well as tour the playground to learn about why each piece was chosen. 

The plan continued as the team started thinking about and planning for Phase 2. One day, another local family, the Gillespies, reached out to Adam and Meredith. The Gillespie family sat down with their children and talked about how they wanted to make a gift to a local foundation. They talked through their options and left it up to the kids. They chose the Leo’s Pride Foundation. Their kids loved the playground, and loved to participate in the annual 5k so they knew right away where they wanted to send their gift. This significant gift was just the nudge they needed to move onto Phase 2. So the team circled back. This included a general contractor, landscape architect, and of course, Leo, who attended all meetings to share his input.

As Phase 2 was in the works, Adam and Meredith were in conversation with their good friend and local author, Whitney McDuff. Whitney had written a children’s book called The Lollie Tree. Adam and Meredith loved reading this story to their children. This is a story of love and magic, overcoming fears, and the profound impact parents have on children while facing their fears. This is where the decompression space of Leo’s Landing was born. A place where kids can read a book, have a picnic with their family, or just have a moment with less stimulation. In this magical area, you will find a Little Free Library, hammock park, three charming playhouses, and the beautiful Lollie Tree. The tree is designed and carved to feature all of the animals seen in the book. The tree was created by a company out of California that specializes in making artificial trees that look real. They sent engineers out to Saluda Shoals to understand the landscape and weather patterns. They were determined to create a tree that was a perfect fit for its surroundings in the park. There is also a nook in the tree welcoming you to take a picture or to hide away for a moment. Adam shared that he can't wait to see kids year after year in front of the Lollie Tree, growing up in this park that does not see differences, but welcomes them.

At this point, Phase 1 and Phase 2 are complete. Leo’s Landing has become a destination and an example for everybody in the community. This is a place for fears to be more easily overcome. Adam stated, “When you build a place like this, everyone can be a part of it.” 

The Bugenske family, the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission, and all team members involved are proud to be a part of this legacy. Leo’s Landing has set a standard for future playgrounds and inclusivity. The ripple effects that this playground will have on the future are limitless. If just one kid’s heart is changed towards people who are different from them, what an impact that could be. 

Play looks different for everyone. Having this universally inclusive playground right in our backyard of beautiful Lake Murray is priceless. If you have not been to Leo’s Landing, be sure to make a trip out to Saluda Shoals to enjoy the nature-based play elements that honor the natural beauty of our area.

The inclusive playground features:

  • Treehouse Village including a roller table, balance beam, climbing and spinning elements, and a metal slide.

  • Hillside Slope featuring a crawling tunnel, various slides, and a ramp connecting to the Treehouse Village.

  • Swing Area featuring high back, bucket, and belt swings, as well as a wheelchair platform swing.

  • Sound Garden with musical elements including chimes, drums, flowers, and a xylophone.

  • Nature Play Area featuring a glider in the shape of a boat as well as trout, turtle, and frog climbing structure.

  • Connection Park, a decompression space featuring musical entryway, Little Free Library, hammock park, three charming hobbit playhouses, and the Lollie Tree.

  • Mogul Village off-trail adventure that encourages free play like running, jumping, rolling, and climbing through various terrain and equipment challenges.

  • Zip Krooz® a high thrill two-way zip line with recumbent and disc seats for diverse skills and bodies.

  • Additional features include a restroom addressing the needs of children and adults with physical disabilities, misting stations, water overlook, covered swings, picnic tables with shade, and two picnic shelters that can be rented for parties and special events.

Leo's Landing is open daily during regular Saluda Shoals park hours.

“When you build a place like this, everyone can be a part of it.”

"A community that excludes even one of its members is no community at all."

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