Alexis and Alex Wolf carry a piece of playground Friday while volunteering to build a new universal playground for children of all abilities at Strawberry Park Elementary School. Volunteers are still needed this weekend at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Alexis and Alex Wolf carry a piece of playground Friday while volunteering to build a new universal playground for children of all abilities at Strawberry Park Elementary School. Volunteers are still needed this weekend at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools.

Excitement builds as new, universal playgrounds take shape

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How to help

Volunteers are needed this weekend at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools to help build universal playgrounds, designed for children of all abilities.

Contact Angela Catterson, co-chairwoman of the Steamboat Springs Rotary Club's Playground Committee, at angelacatterson@c..., or show up at either school to volunteer.

What to bring:

- Work gloves

- Work clothes

- Hats, sunscreen

- Water

- No tools required

- Volunteers must be 16 or older and are encouraged to wear long pants.

Eight-year-old Paige VanArsdale can't wait for the new climbing wall being built at Soda Creek Elementary School. She said it's going to be "pretty tall" and measured the height with her hands - about a foot and a half.

The correct height is about 7 feet, and Paige's excitement is understandable. The climbing wall - along with 77 other activities designed for children with and without disabilities - is going to make it easier for her to do all the things her big brother, Kaleb, can do. Paige was born with cerebral palsy and sometimes struggles to play on regular playgrounds with friends.

"She tries everything and sometimes it's hard for me to watch," said her mother, Melissa VanArsdale. "But I just have to let her try it."

A total of about 250 volunteers showed up Thursday and Friday to help build the innovative playgrounds at Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary schools. Husbands and wives, fathers and sons, and friends young and old pitched in to construct the playgrounds for the children of Steamboat Springs.

"It's not just about kids with disabilities being able to play on the equipment," Shelly St. Pierre said. "It's about other kids being able to play with them."

All can play

St. Pierre's son, Marty, 8, often has to choose whether to play with his friends or his 6-year-old brother, Remy, who has spinal muscular atrophy, a condition that robs his muscles of their strength and keeps him in a wheelchair most of the time.

At traditional playgrounds, St. Pierre said, Remy can't play on the equipment unless an adult physically carries him. On the new universal playgrounds, a ramp system will allow him to reach the highest point on the playground by himself, an experience that his mother said would be very empowering for him.

Each playground has small details that make it easier for children with disabilities to play. One slide at each school is made out of metal, so that children with cochlear implants in their ears can slide and avoid static build-up that occurs on plastic slides and can "blow the implant," St. Pierre said.

There are activities that encourage cerebral development and sensory panels that help to stimulate children with autism. Two adaptive swings allow children with wheelchairs, balance or strength struggles to swing.

There are the usual favorites for all children - a climbing web, basketball hoops, a climbing tunnel and much more. Chances are good that all the children will find creative uses for each piece of equipment, VanArsdale said.

Climbing up usually means falling down for most children, and with the flexible, porous surface made from recycled tires, St. Pierre said wiping out would hurt a little less. The surface also will be heated to melt snow and prevent park closures because of big winters.

"Parents with disabilities can play with their kids, too," St. Pierre said.

The playgrounds are intended to be inclusive and bring people together, St. Pierre said. Even though they aren't completed, the playgrounds are already doing just that with neighbors, local businesses, city employees and community groups combining skills, labors and tools to build the playgrounds.

"It's amazing," said Ben Northcutt, co-chairman of the Steamboat Springs Rotary Club's playground committee. "So many people are coming together to help and having a great time, too."

Paige was happy to do her part for the universal playgrounds by joining volunteers at Soda Creek and spending part of her day at the Rotary hospitality desk Friday. She was pretty happy about the donated pizza for lunch, too.

About 150 volunteers are still needed this weekend in order to get the playgrounds constructed by Monday. St. Pierre predicts the surface will be completed in the next couple of weeks, for a grand opening date in mid-September.

"Even if they only have a couple of hours free - you'd be surprised at how much can get done," said Julie Taulman, co-chairwoman for the organizing Let's All Play committee.

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