Skip to main content

Voices. Knowledge. Solutions.

Come Out and Play: Innovative Playground Trends Keep Inclusivity in Mind

Innovations in accessible and inclusive playground development are raising the bar for play areas across the Palmetto State. As municipalities plan new and unprecedented facilities, they face challenges such as funding, equipment longevity and meeting community safety needs, but the work in places like Conway, Summerville and Moncks Corner can often transform their communities for the better.  

Conway’s Lady Bug Park has an inclusive playground that includes a wheelchair-accessible 
merry-go-round. Photo: City of Conway. 

Coastal and low-lying areas are no strangers to the damaging effects of natural disasters. Following the aftermath of Hurricane Florence and the flooding that ensued, the City of Conway was left with irreparably-damaged playgrounds. It made plans to rebuild the play structures at Sherwood Park and Riverfront Park using long-lasting and removable materials, while reimagining the designs to be inclusive and fully accessible at the same time. This decision came on the heels of planning for the long-awaited opening of the inclusive Lady Bug Park at the Recreation Center. To recognize these efforts, the City of Conway received an Achievement Award for Public Service by the Municipal Association of SC in 2021.

Public Information Officer and Conway native June Wood explained how the revitalization of the two existing playgrounds came to be. With plans already in place for Lady Bug Park, Conway’s city council realized its dream after receiving money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and donations from other outside sources. This closed the gap on the total budget for the redevelopment of Sherwood Park and Riverfront Park, as well as the buildout for the new Lady Bug Park. 

“We wanted the playgrounds to meet the needs of our community, and we wanted all of our parks to be inclusive,” said Wood. 

Ensuring that the two existing playgrounds were also meeting those needs was an important factor, she emphasized. The city embarked on a request for proposal, or RFP, bidding process. Equipment was a big factor, and the council engaged the community by forming a committee to oversee the selection process. Working with community members and other stakeholders, the planning committee captured all of the necessary requests, like the need for metal or non-porous building materials in a flood-prone area. Wood said that one of the biggest committee discussions was about the wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round. 

When approaching a playground design project, Wood recommended focusing on community engagement, saying that the success of the project depends on it. 

“Stakeholders hold invaluable information for the communities’ needs and aspirations,” she said.

Summerville’s redeveloped Saul Alexander Park Playground has Dorchester County’s 
first all-inclusive playground. Photo: Town of Summerville. 

The Town of Summerville recently opened the reimagined Saul Alexander Park Playground, Dorchester County’s first all-inclusive playground, adjacent to Summerville’s Miracle League Field. Originally built in the 1950s, Saul Alexander Park Playground closed for seven months during renovation and reopened in February 2022. 

Coordinating the festivities was Amy Evans, parks and recreation director, who shed some light on the project. The Summerville Miracle League contacted Evans about the addition of an inclusive park just one month after she started in her position. In working with the Miracle League, she found community support and interest in the project. 

To fund the redevelopment, the town received grant money from the state as well as funding from Summerville and Dorchester County. 

“Many of the funds that came from outside the Town of Summerville were earmarked so we could set those aside,” Evans said. 

After the RFP selection process, the town partnered with playground designer GameTime. Using built-to-last equipment, the winning design includes several “rooms,” or pods along a central pathway that create different sensory play experiences. The town also installed mounds to add a fun visual landscape and serve a functional purpose by linking to the main play structure. 

“There are a lot of features of the park that are spread out, so if one pod or one space is overwhelming, there’s other places that kids can go out and play,” said Evans.

As a “pocket park” located within a neighborhood, engagement with the community was critical. One of the top requests from community members was the addition of more green space. 

“[Residents] did not want a traditional, large one-piece structured playground,” said Evans.  “The cool thing about [the project] was that the neighborhood actually got more greenspace.” 

Miracle League, which connects children with special needs with activities including 
baseball, is part of Moncks Corner’s parks development efforts. Photo: Town of Moncks Corner. 

Moncks Corner 
Nearby in the Town of Moncks Corner, the Home Telecom Miracle League Field and playground are in the works as part of a two-phase development project at the Regional Recreation Complex on Main Street. With an anticipated opening date of fall 2022, the field will be named after the project’s largest sponsor.

Becky Ellison, recreation director for the Town of Moncks Corner, said that plans for an inclusive ballpark and playground had been in the works for several years. 

“We wanted to make sure that was something we could provide,” she said. “We now have over 900 participants in four years — that’s a lot of growth. But we were still leaving out one group. Not just children, adults as well.”

As the project is driven by funding, Ellison said she hopes that Moncks Corner can go straight into Phase II once Phase I is completed. To raise the necessary funds, the town applied for and received grants including the Community Development Block Grant and the Municipal Association’s Hometown Economic Development Grant. A capital campaign with sponsorship outreach within the community was also part of the process. 

“We went out and talked to businesses about the Miracle League; that it provides an opportunity for children and adults to play baseball but also [a chance] for the community to be involved as well,” Ellison said. 

The new Miracle League field will feature rubberized turf which is easily accessible for wheelchairs and walkers. The open-air pavilion, dugouts and all other features of the field are designed with accessibility in mind to limit any hinderance to play. Ellison said the equipment of the all-inclusive playground will have the same rubberized turf as the field. Sensory machines that play music and allow for children to touch, feel and listen will also be part of the design.

“We should provide an opportunity for everyone to play, because recreation is all about fun, community, family,” she said. “It brings everyone together.”  

The playgrounds of the future will most likely continue to keep inclusivity and accessibility in mind. Bringing together community engagement, stakeholder buy-in and diverse funding sources during the initial phases of the planning process are some keys to success.