(Tega Cay, S.C.) – The first inclusive playground in York County, with equipment outfitted for children of all ages with sensory, physical, cognitive or social development limitations, will open at Trailhead Park in Tega Cay this week.
All Play Together, a Fort Mill-based nonprofit, and leaders from the city of Tega Cay will unveil the all-inclusive park Friday (Feb. 7), after years of planning and $400,000 raised through community efforts.
The playground includes double-wide ramps for accessibility, a sensory garden and rubberized surfaces throughout for safe play.
Previously, the closest inclusive park was in Mecklenburg County, N.C.
Lori Christison, a speech pathologist and the founder of All Play Together, said she has met many parents who shared stories about the difficulties of taking their children to an inaccessible play facility.
“A fun outing became a train wreck and everyone came home upset,” said Christison. “The notion that some of these families who have had such huge challenges didn’t have that opportunity to play was the impetus that created the project.”
Educating the community about inclusion was central to the completion of the project as most people did not know there was a need, Christison said.
“Without the ability to access playground equipment, children with disabilities are often segregated from their typically developing peers, which may reduce the likelihood of meaningful friendships,” said Julie Warner, coordinator of specialized instruction for the Fort Mill School District.
“Activities that center around play can ignite friendships and foster social skills in a more natural way than any contrived situation can,” said Warner.
All Play Together partnered with Tega Cay a year ago to make the park a reality, which was funded by donations from individuals and local businesses.
“We had a couple of big contributors,” said David O’Neil, mayor of Tega Cay. “We had to get over that last hurdle, which was the last $100,000.”
Thus, he said the city needed to use some creative fundraising tactics.
“One night the whole town and city council got together at our city-owned restaurant and they let us be waiters that day and whatever tips we got went to the park,” said O’Neil.
“I’m telling you, I have never worked so hard as I did that night. I never tied my shoes or stopped for water and I was busy the whole night.”
Tega Cay will provide ongoing maintenance for the playground.
“It’s not a Tega Cay park. It’s a regional park,” said O’Neil. “I think it will be great when people see that all kids can truly play together, no matter what your physical ability is.”
Rich and Val Guicheteau, who have lived in the area for 42 years, said the new playground will be a great addition to their neighborhood.
The city will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony Feb. 7 at 10 a.m.