Palo Alto plans for new playground to accommodate people of all ages and abilities

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Saturday, July 20, 2019
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Magical Bridge Playground at Mitchell Park in Palo Alto is known for its play equipment- accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- Magical Bridge Playground at Mitchell Park in Palo Alto is known for its play equipment- accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

The all-inclusive playground attracts people from all over. An estimated 20,000 visitors are expected each month.

On Friday, Melissa Hinn and her family visited from San Francisco.

"We have one on the autistic spectrum," Hinn explained. "It's been really important to me that my kids are integrating with children who have other needs that they may not be aware of."

It's this recipe for all-inclusive recreation that caught the attention of Santa Clara County Supervisors. They've set aside $10-million in grant money to put similar all-inclusive playgrounds in each of the county's five districts.

"Good quality, very safe, very durable," parent, Alan Wong said about Magical Bridge. "I would love to see more of these types of parks around."

Palo Alto has plans for a second inclusive playground to be built at Rinconada Park.

Designers are drawing inspiration from the Magical Bridge playground. Private donations mainly funded the $4-million park.

Olenka Villarreal is the woman behind Magical Bridge. She is the Magical Bridge Foundation founder and executive director.

She spent 20 years in tech, then pivoted to park design with her two kids in mind. She explained one child has varying disabilities.

"I did not want to take my kids to two different parks," Villarreal said. "I wanted them to have a great time at the same park, and so for me, it's very personal."

She explained that in order to build a fully custom Magical Bridge playground would cost between $4-million and $4.5-million.

Her foundation helps cities raise the funds to help create places like her playground within communities. She said the foundation also came up with a proposal for Magical Bridge-inspired playgrounds like people would see at Rinconada Park.

"Right now, many people in communities are being completely left out of things as simple as a playground," Villarreal told ABC7 News.

She continued, "In essence, one in every four now in every community does have a visible or invisible disability. So, it's really time to create more places and spaces that encompass the needs of everybody."

Because of Villarreal's effort to build a better Bay Area, others will soon have more options to share space and play with people of all ages and abilities.

"Increasing awareness about that and the urgent need to include everybody in a community, as opposed to calling parks special needs, or ADA compliant," she said. "No, it should just be a community park."

Villarreal said the Magical Bridge playground underway in Redwood City should be accessible to the public by early 2020. She said others are going into Sunnyvale and Morgan Hill.

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