Article and Photos by Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Writer
The Town of Wheatfield has a new playground whose name encompasses the reason for its being there: Unity Inclusive Playground at Fairmount Park.
The playground welcomes children and adults of all ability levels and has special adaptive features for safety and enjoyment.
“It’s a great day and a wonderful day for Wheatfield,” said Supervisor Don MacSwan at the playground’s grand-opening on Nov. 4. He said the town now has a place for kids with special needs to join with others of all abilities in a special place. “It’s a beautiful thing for our community.”
Two community members were unveiled as winners of the naming contest that preceded the grand-opening. Both Jessica Bilson and Jennie Durwald received a $250 gift card and town proclamation for community involvement because each, by coincidence, chose the same name for the new playground at Fairmount Park.
Funds from the federal government American Rescue Plan covered the cost of the playground. A committee formed to implement the playground’s unique concept included MacSwan, Council member Curt Doktor, Recreation Director Mike Ranalli, and resident and parent Cary Newman, who suggested the inclusive playground idea to the town. The Town Board lined up Parkitects, a Buffalo-based playground design and build company, to install the playground.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Doktor said, “Not even a chilly, November rainy, wet day” could stand in the way of celebrating the accomplishment of uniting residents in a common purpose.
“It is an inclusive playground, and what that means is there are elements of this playground that are designed to accommodate children of all abilities. It’s a place for everybody to come together and really just have fun.”
Doktor pointed to some special features, including an extra-wide ramp that can easily fit both a wheelchair going up and a wheelchair coming down; a tandem swing; the blue and yellow of the playground equipment, which are Wheatfield town colors; and turf that has a special supportive feel from its thick, low-impact quality.
Unity Inclusive Playground at Fairmount Park had its grand-opening Nov. 4 in Wheatfield.
In his thank you’s, Doktor praised: Ranalli, who he said has been at the center of the project; MacSwan, whose dedicated support, Doktor said, contributed greatly to its success; the town Highway Department, which did prep work for the site, keeping the project within budget; council members Gil Doucet and Randy Retzlaff, who were in attendance; Niagara County Legislator Jesse Gooch; and Newman, who he described as having relevant expertise, with more than 20 years’ experience working with children with disabilities.
“Cary is a worker!” Doktor said.
Newman said after the grand-opening, “I think it’s very exciting. You know, when I approached the town, they could have told me, ‘No,’ but they saw the need for an inclusive playground, and I really appreciate them. I think the community should know that these people – the Town Board – are rooting for the community.”
She explained, “This is needed and it’s just the beginning. We’re hoping to get an accessible pavilion and pickleball courts – so it’s just a start to make sure we include kids with disabilities. I love seeing the kids finally play on it.”
“Please, take a walk and check out the playground,” MacSwan said after the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Bilson’s son, Bryce, 2-and-a-half, who has cerebral palsy, was eager to get out and play.
In choosing the name “Unity” for the playground, “I wanted something that felt like he belonged,” Bilson said of her son. “Everyone is one.”
Jessica and Bryce Bilson check out the swing at Unity Inclusive Playground at Fairmount Park. Her twin boys, Sawyer and Levi, also were there to enjoy the grand-opening.