Dreams are coming true for Fort Worth kids who've had to sit on the sidelines at the playground. After years of planning and fundraising, Dream Park, a playground designed to welcome and accommodate children with special needs, is set to open April 15 in Fort Worth.
It will replace the more traditional playground centrally located in Trinity Park, just west of downtown.
The playground, which all kids can enjoy, was the idea of Fort Worth resident Rachael Churchill, now Dream Park president, who got the idea years ago while visiting her family in Wisconsin. As they approached a park along the shores of Lake Michigan, she noticed something unusual.
“We went to the playground, and I immediately knew something was different, but I didn’t know exactly what it was,” she says. “I just thought it was a really cool looking playground. It had a bunch of ramps. It was designed to look like a ship. It was just so cool. I knew then and there I needed to bring this amazing concept back home.”
The sprawling facility, called Possibility Playground, had a sign out front that said it was designed for children of all abilities.
“I loved that concept,” she says. “What I really loved about it, and what we tried to achieve with Dream Park, is when we pulled up it never occurred to me that it was designed for kids of all abilities. It just looked like a really fun, really cool place to play.”
While Possibility Playground was an inspiration for Dream Park, Churchill and her team sought to create a unique place with its own identity. However, the two parks share an important thing in common: no child left behind. Kids with mobility challenges and other issues will no longer be left on the sidelines when it comes to playing in a public park.
“If you have a walker or a wheelchair, it’s hard to get across woodchips,” Churchill says, referring to the common flooring of a typical playground. “Dream Park has rubber surfacing that works for everyone. We have swings with a hardback and harness to give children with low muscle tone extra support. We have so many things that are inclusive.”
Other features include a roller slide that gives kids sensory stimulation through the application of deep-muscle pressure from the steel rollers, a zipline featuring a molded bucket seat with a lock-in-place harness so children with limited core strength can participate, and Cozy Dome structures that provide a quiet space for over-stimulated kids.
“These features will not only meet the needs of children with disabilities but will also allow caregivers, parents, and grandparents with disabilities the opportunity to interact and play with their children,” Churchill says.
Recognized as a 501c(3) charitable organization, Dream Park, which comprises 57,000 square feet of green and play space, was funded by grants and donations received from private foundations, philanthropic institutions, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals. Additionally, the Dream Park board established a $250,000 safety surface endowment fund for the city to maintain the rubber surfacing.
Churchill believes the Trinity Park location is ideal, but there were some challenges in getting the project completed.
“The area can get a bit congested with the Botanical Gardens and Zoo nearby, so a traffic study was conducted to make sure the area could handle the additional visitors and traffic Dream Park would attract,” she says. “The study determined it was doable, but that Trinity Park would need additional parking, so the city added a 67-spot parking lot specifically for Dream Park.”
The facility is sometimes referred to as Frank Kent’s Dream Park. Kent, of Frank Kent Cadillac fame, is Churchill’s husband’s great-grandfather. She says she wanted to honor his memory by naming the playground after him.
“He was an active civic, business, and community leader who generously supported a broad range of philanthropic interests,” she says. “He made contributions that benefited youth and children in not only Fort Worth and Tarrant County but across the state. Kent loved to serve and support the citizens of Fort Worth.”
Churchill eagerly awaits the introduction of the Dream Park and what it will mean to the community.
“It gives me chills just thinking about it,” she says. “It’s going to be wonderful for the kids. I just can’t imagine. It’s a place where everybody can play. I’ve talked to parents with special needs children, and they say, ‘We don’t even try to go to the playground anymore because my child is always on the sidelines.’ To see the kids interacting and playing together is going to be really remarkable.”
A Dream Park ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place at noon April 15. The park is located at 2401 University Dr., Fort Worth. To reserve the park's pavilion for a party or gathering, call the City of Fort Worth Park Reservation line at 817-392-5718, beginning May 11.