The dream is almost a reality! The innovative, magical and inclusive Common Ground Playground at Makino Park in Mason is close to opening. Children with special needs and typical children will soon play, learn and grow together, side by side.
The dream for an accessible playground that would be fun for children of all abilities began when the Mason Parks & Recreation Foundation was formed in 2007. Current president, Rachel Kopfler, became the organization’s first leader and dreamer of an inclusive playground in Mason.
Rachel shares her story, “At the time, we had five children ages 5, 3 and 4 year-old triplets. One of the triplets was born with a rare spinal cord defect and the doctors were unsure what his abilities would be as he grew. One day it occurred to me that our family was a built-in playgroup: four typically developing children and one son with a disability, who exceeded expectations because he watched his siblings and would figure out a way to do what they were doing.”
Realizing the social, emotional and physical benefits all five children gained by playing together, Rachel began to investigate inclusive playgrounds in the area. A call to the City of Mason informed her there was land near U.S. 42 and Snider Road that was designated for an inclusive playground. Not long after the call, the parks and recreation foundation was formed and Rachel was asked to spearhead the playground project.
“I describe the past thirteen years as a roller coaster,” Rachel reflects. “There was so much work to get to the top. There were successes and setbacks. We have had a ton of support from the city, corporations and individuals who felt strongly about the project. About a year ago we finally felt we were at the top of the roller coaster when the Makino Foundation gave us a $500,000 donation.”
Eric Hansen, Mason’s city manager comments, “The city partnered with the foundation, secured grant dollars and state capital money, assisted with the design, committed matching funds, and worked with TriHealth and local businesses to raise money.” Eric adds, “It is an impressive park that will have a regional impact. I always come back to the name, Common Ground, folks with different needs and abilities come together and make each other stronger. It’s a great message for the community.”
What is distinctive about the Common Ground Playground? It is truly a child’s wonderland. There is color everywhere. The park is surrounded by trees, creating a quiet, calming effect. There are beautifully landscaped areas designed and donated by Lichtenberg Landscaping, who will also be developing an adjacent field into a sunflower showcase.
The playspace is designed for children to enjoy together, regardless of their individual abilities. Everything is ramped and most of the play structures and walkways can accommodate two wheelchairs. There are accessible swings, a musical feature, sensory panels, a creative playhouse, interactive ping pong and much more. For children who may be easily overwhelmed, there are quieter areas. There is even an accessible zip line that accommodates two differently abled children side by side.
The park boasts an accessible mini soccer field donated by FC Cincinnati. Future plans include adding three accessible baseball fields. Susan Murdock, coordinator of the Mason Challenger League explains, “The design of these baseball fields removes barriers that will level the playing field and build inclusion in the community.”
An important safety feature is the fence surrounding the entire playground, giving parents and caregivers peace of mind. The Rob Hollaender family, who donated the fence, is excited about the park. Rob relates, “It will give families a place to go where all kids can be kids in a safe and fun environment.”
Makino Park is truly a Mason gem. From an aerial view, you can see the Common Ground Playground is in the shape of a butterfly. Butterfly renderings are everywhere in the park, reminding us all, that every butterfly is beautiful and unique, like each and every child. At Common Ground, children of all abilities will be able to spread their wings and soar.