Parks and Playgrounds Offer Entertainment for All

August 23, 2018

Gale Horton Gay

This article appeared in the August 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
The city of Acworth’s Horizon Field hosts more than 225 people in its spring baseball program.

Some cities and communities are pri­oritizing inclusiveness and committing to it beyond just lip service.

Throughout Georgia, several parks and recreational facilities are being built and expanded to include spaces where individuals of various ages and abilities can take part in recreational activities.
Horizon Field is part of the 42-acre Acworth Sports Complex that includes baseball and football fields, practice fields, batting cages and more. How­ever, Horizon Field is designed so that children and adults with cognitive and physical disabilities also have a place to engage in team sports. “Where the sky’s the limit” is Horizon’s slogan.
James Albright, Acworth’s director of parks and recreation, said an exhi­bition game for special needs children was held in 2007 and the participation of 50 children demonstrated the need for the field. Officials decided to “inten­tionally develop a program for all ages and abilities.” The $1.2 million field was constructed in 2009.
Today children of all abilities can enjoy Horizon Field in Acworth.
Albright said initially officials were considering building a standalone spe­cial needs venue, but were advised by professionals that it was better to have a venue integrated into existing rec­reational space. Acworth officials also hired a therapeutic recreation coordi­nator to plan programs and activities.
Horizon Field has a rubber surface and can be utilized by those in wheel­chairs and walkers. The facility has be­come so popular that more than 225 people participate in the spring base­ball program. An equal number takes part in the fall program as well as 100 individuals who turn out for the sum­mer kickball activities, according to Al­bright.

The field is also the go-to venue for special events such as soccer clin­ics and Covering the Bases, a 24-hour event held by the local police depart­ment that nets $25,000-$30,000 for the Special Needs Development Group.
Albright said partnerships with high schools, churches and clubs such as Rotary have resulted in a considerable volunteer force at Horizon Field where many serve as buddies to the special need participants.
“Parents are able to sit in the stands and enjoy the game,” Albright said.
When asked how the facility and programming have been received by Acworth’s 23,000 residents, Albright said, “It’s been nothing but positive.”
A miracle of sorts is taking place in Valdosta—Miracle Field Complex is currently under construction at Free­dom Park. The $1.6 million complex will include four standard baseball fields and a two-dimensional rubber­ized “miracle” field, where people in walkers and wheelchairs can partici­pate in activities without fear of getting hurt, according to one official.
The complex has a wide range of features:
  • A $252,000 playground with ramps instead of stairs leading to the top of slides
  • Dugouts with bathrooms, showers and a soundproof quiet room
  • Pavilion that’s 50 feet by 77 feet and can accommodate 150 people in wheelchairs
 “It has really filled a void that has been in this community for a long time,” said Valdosta Councilmember Andy Gibbs. “It’s all geared toward what benefits them,” he said.
The groundbreaking for the com­plex took place in May and its comple­tion is expected by November or De­cember.

In March 2017 a new playground opened in McDonough that was de­signed for children with autism and special needs.
The playground is a gift to the city from Our World at Hope Park, a non­profit that raised $500,000 for the play­ground and is working on other proj­ects for children with special needs. McDonough provided the land.

The playground has a surface that’s accommodating to wheelchairs, walk­ers and wagons. It is divided into three age categories and has equipment that children can grab, walk on and climb through. It also contains a roller table that individuals can rub against, giving something similar to a muscle mas­sage—a favorite of some children with sensory issues.
Lori Davis, executive director of Our World Helping Other People Excel (HOPE) Park, said she’s thrilled with what the park and playground have brought to the community.
“We go by and there’s always somebody there unless it’s raining,” said Davis. “The community really loves it.”

She said the facility brings together children who have special needs play­ing side by side with other children.

“Kids are kids, they want to play, they want to help each other,” said Davis.

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