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Among those at Saturday's grand opening were (from left) Lee Downey, Richmond's deputy administrative officer for economic and community development; Chip and Patrick Beatty, Kate Gibson and Vicki Beatty, Chip, Davis and Patrick Beatty (representing families and caregivers who inspired ARCpark); Sally Richardson and Matt Hulcher, representing the Judith Haskell Brewer Fund of the Community Foundation; Meg Downs, member of the Greater Richmond ARC Board of Directors and ARCpark Fundraising Cabinet; Robert Sommerville, chairman of the Greater Richmond ARC Board of Directors; John Walker, president and CEO of Greater Richmond ARC; and Marshall Butler, former president of Greater Richmond ARC. (photo by Benjamin May)
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A view of ARCpark from the treehouse (photo courtesy Greater Richmond ARC)
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The ARCpark's glider swing can accommodate a wheelchair (photo courtesy Greater Richmond ARC)
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The Biggo hammock swings are wheelchair accessible (photo courtesy Greater Richmond ARC)
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The foundation for the treehouse is a 150-year-old eucalyptus trunk. (photo courtesy Greater Richmond ARC)
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The No BS! Brass Band entertained the crowd at Saturday's grand opening (photo by Benjamin May)
Saturdays are meant for events such as the Grand Opening Celebration that took place at the ARCpark on Saturday afternoon.
The ARC staff was proud to introduce the first of its kind park in the region; designed for “ALL AGES. ALL ABILITIES.”
Meg Downs, member of the Greater Richmond ARC Board of Directors and the ARC Fundraising Cabinet, announced the ribbon cutters and led the crowd in three cheers for the ARCpark.
“It’s been six years in the making,” says Douglas Payne, ARC’s communications director, “and it was designed from its inception with the idea that families of all ages, and kids of all ages and abilities, play together. Typically what happens is when smaller parks of this size are built, it’s just for kids or adults with disabilities. Most families that have kids with disabilities have children who are both with or without. So they are always having to select where they go asking, ‘Who’s going to have to sit on the sidelines?’ The idea here was to make it a completely integrated park, and more than just a playground.”
The park is located on Saunders Avenue off West Laburnum Avenue, next to the Greater Richmond ARC, which offers services and programs for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The 2.4-acre ARCpark came to fruition through unique funding. There are over 400 donors who made the park possible. The park would not be what it is without the input of families, occupational therapists and physical therapists.
“The total cost was about $3.4 million, but it’s all been raised and paid for,” Payne says.
The park consists of eight state-of-the-art activity centers, all wheelchair-accessible thanks to a recycled, poured-rubber mulch that is flush with sidewalks. Each is designed to provide experiences that are not only fundamental in human development, but fun.
The entrance of the park contains a “Gather” area that transitions into the “Play” area; containing colorful playgrounds for different age groups, a pavilion with tables and a stage, where among other things, a summer-camp talent show takes place.
The “Grow” area contains a greenhouse with wheelchair-height counters and planters, where visitors can get their hands dirty. This is one of the more fascinating features of the park, because it calls attention to an interaction with the world that may not otherwise be practical or safe. Digging and handling dirt are among the favorite activities of children. This area provides an opportunity to feed curiosity and has the potential to inspire generations of green thumbs.
The “Move” area contains various stand-alone cycling stations, pull-up bars, parallel bars and a basketball court. The basketball court is fenced in to allow players to really focus on the game. This is one of many features of the ARCpark that demonstrates the considerations taken in its design.
The “Explore” area provides experiences that spark curiosity and give perspective. There are wheelchair accessible “Biggo swings” and a glider that proved to be so popular, the ARC staff spoke of ordering and installing more. There is also a unique play area built into a hill. There are steps and rocks to climb, slides to go down, and one of the Saturday crowd's favorite features was a tunnel set in the hill.
There is a cedar treehouse accessible via ramp in the Explore area. Payne was excited to show me the foundation for the treehouse: a massive 150-year-old reclaimed eucalyptus stump that was shipped from California. He says the stump is impervious to bugs and water damage, making it ideal for a foundation. Otherwise, it would have become mulch.
The treehouse addresses a specific perspective issue for visitors in wheelchairs. Payne says, “I spoke with a teenager who was in a wheelchair, and one of the things he said was, 'Everyone is always looking down at me. I’d love to be able to be up high and see down at people.’ ”
There are a variety of musical instruments installed at the base of the treehouse. The soothing tones produced by these installments fit right in with the general levity in the air. In addition to these finely tuned pipes and chimes, members of the No BS! Brass Band played in a pavilion attached to the main ARC building, beginning their set with a parade-style procession.
The ARCpark is a breathing facility, and though it opened Saturday, it will be continually improved and managed. One of the ongoing management operations will be transportation to and from the park. On opening day, there were buses coming in from all over the RIchmond metropolitan area. Payne says Greater Richmond ARC hopes to continue this kind of accessibility for people in and around Richmond.
The “Discover” area of the park contains a sensory wall completed by the sculptor Mark Hammond of Mechanicsville. The wall has interactive stations that provide sensory experiences to visitors of all levels of sensory capabilities. There are tufts of fiber-optic lights that poke out of the wall providing visual and tactile sensations. Raised imprints of fossils and shells are found throughout the sculpture, giving a prehistoric rock feel. There are also a few movement-oriented stations providing clever auditory and visual stimulation.
The “Refresh” area is lined with cooling stations and benches. The restrooms contain a fully accessible family room with an adult-size changing station. The water fountain has a bottle refill station that seemed to keep visitors engaged with the park while enjoying beverages at their leisure.
The “Create” area is an attractive playground with slides, monkey bars and numerous surfaces to explore. Though designed by professionals, the playground is best left to the experts it was designed for.
The ARCpark is free of charge, and generally open from dawn to dusk. The park may be closed for inclement weather, overcrowding or special events. It is advised to call (804) 358-1874 to pre-register groups of 10 or more.