All kids love
playgrounds, but all playgrounds don't love every kid. Fortunately, a pair
of local playgrounds – conceived and constructed with the invincible
energy of parental love – go all-out to make themselves accessible both
to able-bodied children and children with disabilities.
The nation's first fully accessible playground, Opportunity Park
(pictured at top and left), opened in 1994 while Americans With
Disabilities Act standards for children's playgrounds were still on the
drawing board. Located in Allen Pond Park in Bowie, Md., it
contains typical slides and climbers plus special equipment accessible to
children (and adults) with a variety of disabilities.
The components of Opportunity Park – motto: "So that all may
play" – include a tot lot with forgiving artificial surfaces (no
wheelchair-clogging wood chips) and play equipment with easy-to-hold
grips. The bright-colored slides and other devices are fit into
space-saving close-to-the-ground mounds. A larger playground for
school-age children is fully ramped and totally wheelchair accessible. It
more than compensates for slides that fall short of the stratosphere with
an intricate array of steps, climbers and tunnels. In both areas, tactile
mazes, tick-tack-toe games and alphabets appeal to the visually impaired.
The wheelchair-accessible Nature and Sensory Trail provides a short but
eventful circuit through the woods with seven interactive stations
including a fragrance box and animal tracks cast in cement. It's on the
other side of the baseball diamond, a short hop from the school-age
Opportunity Park is the dream come true of Mary Johnson, a local resident
who found that her son Matthew, in a wheelchair because of spina bifida,
couldn't join in all of the fun at most playgrounds. After obtaining input
from parents of children with other disabilities, she mustered the
political support and mobilized a fund-raising campaign that launched
construction of the playground in 1993.
But Opportunity Park is hardly the only reason to visit Allen Pond Park,
as hordes of visitors confirm each weekend. A wheelchair-accessible path
runs the length of the park, and the Bowie Ice Arena in the park
offers more than 20 hours of public skating weekly.
Allen Pond itself is stocked with fish and has a wheelchair-accessible
pier (a Maryland fishing license is required). You can rent paddle boats,
rowboats and canoes – but don't even think about floating under the
water spout – and pick up a guide to all park facilities at the
boathouse. There are no concessions in the park itself, but an ice cream
van in the parking lot can handle urgent hunger.
The optimum Allen Pond experience may be a picnic to the tune of the Sunday
Concert Series in the outdoor amphitheater (see schedule below). From
now through Labor Day, the free concerts are only-in-summer,
only-on-Sunday opportunities everyone can enjoy.
Directions: From Beltway Exit 19, take U.S. 50 east to
Exit 11 (Collington Road, Route 197). Go south on Collington Road. Turn
right at Northview Drive and continue to entrance to Allen Pond Park lot.
Hadley's Playground in Potomac, Md., is also a labor of mother
love. When Shelley Kramm's infant daughter Hadley, now 7, was diagnosed
with cerebral palsy, Kramm launched a campaign that, combining political
with financial might, culminated this June in the opening of a deluxe
one-acre accessible playground on the edge of Falls Road Local Park.
The hundreds of contributors are memorialized with bricks leading to play
areas. However, the play areas themselves are paved with an Astroturf-like
substance composed of recycled tires that's firm enough for wheelchairs
(and walkers, strollers and bikes) but soft enough to cushion falls. Most
of the surface is pale green except for a strip of black highway that
links the elaborate – and still pristine – theme play areas: a bright
and cheery pirate ship, a medieval-style castle and a Lincoln-Log
green-and-brown frontier town.
While each area brims with play equipment – swings, straight and
twisting slides, ladders, pulleys, rope bridges, climbing walls – to
challenge all children, some features appeal especially to children with
disabilities. Autistic children can express themselves with
picture-communication signs. The visually handicapped can read signs in
Braille, play tick-tack-toe and explore a tactile globe. The spaces for
hopscotch and four-square are big enough to accommodate wheelchairs.
In Hadley's Playground even the landscaping has an impact, with flowers
and shrubs chosen to maximize tactile pleasure and heighten butterfly and
bird appeal. And amid the plantings is posted a copy of "Welcome
to Holland" (outside link), Emily Perl Kingsley's inspirational
observations about raising a child with a disability.
On a practical note, Hadley's Playground has portable toilets but no
concessions and no water. Be sure to bring your own liquids because the
playground's trees, though ample in number, are still too new to provide
Directions: From the Beltway take Interstate 270 north to
Exit 5 (Falls Road, Route 189). Drive west about one mile. Hadley's
Playground is on the right.
• Opportunity Park, Allen Pond Park, 3330 Northview Dr., Bowie,
Md., (301) 262-6200
• Allen Pond Park boat rentals, (301) 262-6200, ext. 3116.
Open weekends 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. through Labor Day. Canoes and rowboats:
Bowie residents $3 per half-hour, $5 per hour; nonresidents $4 per
half-hour, $6 per hour. Paddle boats: residents $4 per half-hour, $5 per
• Sunday Concert Series, (301) 809-3009. Sundays 7 to 8 p.m.
through Labor Day. Aug. 8, the Smile Band (R&B); Aug. 15, the
Grandsons (rockabilly); Aug. 22, U.S. Naval Academy Electric Brigade (hot
hits); Aug. 29, U.S. Air Force High Flight (show band); Sept. 5, the
Moonlighters (traditional American).
• Hadley's Playground, Falls Road Local Park, 12600 Falls Rd.
near Falls Chapel Way, Potomac, Md., (301) 424-2112
Other accessible playgrounds
• Martin Luther King Jr. Playground for All Children, Martin Luther
King Jr. Recreational Park, 1100 Jackson Rd., Silver Spring, Md.,
• Lake Accotink Park, 7500 Accotink Park Rd., Springfield, Va.,
• South Run District Park, 7550 Reservation Dr.,
Springfield, Va., (703) 866-0566
• Tysons Woods Park, 8424 Overlook St., Vienna, Va., (703)
• Wolf Trails Park, 9328 Old Courthouse Rd., Vienna, Va.,