by Andy Rausch and Joe Reinecker
As we reported last year, Fort Scott city officials are raising money to build an inclusive playground area in Ellis Park, located at 1105 E. 12th Street. The new playground area will be designed to allow disabled children the opportunity to play and have a good time just like every other child.
“The City of Fort Scott, through the Bourbon County Healthy Pathways team, is trying to get this playground built,” explains Fort Scott Director of Development Rhonda Dunn. “We thought a Multi-Century Playground would benefit the community. We also call it an inclusive park. So when you think about a child who has a wheelchair or a walker, they can’t play in a regular playground, because it’s not made for them. They can’t wheel around in it. Obviously they can’t use swings and slides like most kids. So instead you would have an inclusive playground, which has a mat that goes down over the ground so they can roll around easily, or walk around more easily without trip hazards and things like that. Then you also have the kind of equipment on that playground that those children can use and enjoy with their skills and abilities. So you would have a swing that wheelchair child can be rolled into. Can you imagine having a child that you could never swing in a park? So this would really just be a great way to make our community more inclusive.”
Right now, the closest inclusive playground to Fort Scott area is in Chanute, which is 50 miles away. “I know of at least one local family that regularly travels to Chanute with their child to use their park,” says Dunn. “What a shame that is that they don’t have a playground like that at home. I really look forward to the day when we have that here.”
City officials have made some progress towards making the playground a reality over the past year, but they still have a long way to go to meet their goal. “It’s all about money,” says Dunn. “We’re still in the fundraising part of the process.”
According to Dunn, the city held an event this past year honoring one of its citizens, which raised about $25,000. Since that time, the city has raised an additional $5,000 for the park. She says the goal is $200,000, which is roughly what the inclusive playground will cost. (The pad alone costs approximately $100,000 by itself.) That event, a “roast and toast,” also honored five families who would benefit from the playground. The children of those families’ disabilities range from Spina Bifida to autism. “We’ve raised over 10 percent of our goal, but we just keep going,” said Dunn. “This seems to be something that has really touched our community.
“We have a number of groups that are doing fundraisers for the park, including Rotary ‘Dancing with the Stars,’” says Dunn. “We had the cutest little guy there, who will someday get to play in that park. He had a fundraising sign on him and a walker. He was just quite the guy. It was hard not to put your money in the fishbowl for his project.”