ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Howard County Executive Calvin Ball and Recreation and Parks Director Nick Mooneyhan today opened the completed sensory trail loop located at the Centennial Park North playground area. This world-class trail loop includes music features, sensory panels, and sensory play equipment near the all-access playground. Pictures from the event are here.
Parks are a place where our entire community is welcome. It is a place to meet neighbors, share experiences, and rejuvenate. This new sensory trail helps us build upon our efforts to be more inclusive for our residents of all ages and abilities.
In 2021, Ball opened the transformative inclusive playground, which was the first PlayCore National Demonstration Site inclusive playground in Howard County. This phase was designed after meeting with a stakeholder planning group that was comprised of residents, parents of consumers, disability advocates, and Recreation & Parks staff members that included the following core members: Sherri Braxton-Lieber, Lisa Dornell, Colette Jackson, Beth Benevides (The Hussman Foundation), Melissa Rosenberg (Autism Society of Maryland), and Marian Vessels (Park Advisory Board).
“Every time we redo a playground in Howard County, we are installing more accessible play features and being intentional in our design to make sure our parks remain a welcoming place for all to visit,” said Mooneyhan. “We’ve recently rebuilt playgrounds at Savage and Warfield’s Pond parks in order to make them more inclusive, and we have more planned in the coming years.”
Among the new play features are a sensory-friendly, rock abacus with unique textures, shapes and sizes; musical stations; and multiple, unique play apparatus that allow individuals to remain in their wheelchair. Three examples are the sway glider and we-go swing that allow individuals to rock a “boat” back and forth using their arm and a merry-go-all. In addition to the playground enhancements, the project consisted of constructing a new stormwater management system underneath to help with drainage. A new fence and two gated entrances were constructed to go around the playground and path.
The Maryland Department of Disabilities supports the expansion of inclusive playgrounds across our state. Our recently released ‘Framework for Inclusive Playgrounds’ provides guidance for communities to increase opportunities for all children with and without disabilities to play together, just like this project does.
Other recent improvements at Centennial Park include a new accessible parking lot and canoe/kayak launch for those renting a canoe or kayak at Centennial South (completed in 2022) and the installation of lights at the Centennial West basketball courts (completed in August 2023).
Deputy Director of the Autism Society of Maryland Susanne Mason spoke at the ribbon cutting. “The Autism Society of Maryland is delighted to have another fully accessible playground in Howard County. It provides a wonderful opportunity for our children to learn that inclusion is the rule from the playground to the classroom to the workplace.”
Future improvements to the park include the installation of outdoor fitness equipment next to the tennis and racquetball courts in the Spring of 2024. The fitness equipment is geared toward active adults but will be varied enough that it can be used by people of all ages.
In conjunction with that project, the tennis courts, pathways, and parking in the surrounding area will be renovated to update the park that was built 35 plus years ago to current ADA accessibility standards.
“As parents of loved ones who live with disabilities, we share a vision: a world where they can be fully included in their own communities. The beauty of a universal playground design is that it provides accessible, sensory friendly experiences so that everyone, regardless of ability, has an opportunity to enjoy our public recreation facilities and playgrounds,” stated Ms. Lisa Dornell, a Howard County parent. “We are truly grateful to those who have shared our vision and who have made it a reality.”
About Centennial Park:
Centennial Park was established in 1987 with a vision to create an environment where anyone and everyone could visit to play, hike, boat and come together as a community. Visitors to Centennial Park can enjoy walking, running or biking on a 2.6-mile paved pathway, boating or fishing on a 54-acre man-made lake, and playing recreational volleyball, basketball, tennis, racquetball and baseball/softball in designated areas throughout the park.
For more information on Centennial Park, visit www.howardcountymd.gov/recreation-parks/parks.