Most of us can’t imagine the frustration of going to a park and finding nothing but barriers.
Nothing to play on.
Nothing to enjoy.
That’s not what parks should represent. They should provide an opportunity for outdoor enjoyment for people of all ages, all abilities.
But a traditional park can be intimidating for anyone who has cognitive, sensory or physical challenges. And there’s no park in Wisconsin specifically designed to serve someone with those challenges.
Thankfully, there’s a dynamic plan to transform an underutilized park in La Crosse into a special place to serve people of all abilities, all ages.
The $6 million project is called All Abilities Trane Park, and organizers hope to open it in July 2019.
The site is Trane Park, a 6.9-acre park at 15th and Chase streets that was developed in 1954 thanks to a $35,000 donation from Trane Co., and was named in honor of Reuben Trane and family.
The concept is to transform 2.8 acres of the park into customized, sensory-rich areas in a contained setting that provide the best types of outdoor play and recreation for people who have specific needs.
There would be space for early development, climbing, nature activities, spinning and swaying and swinging, water play and music, picnics, and music and exploration.
The park will provide equipment and alternative communication designed to best suit those needs, from autism and cerebral palsy to spina bifida and Down syndrome.
All Abilities Trane Park will serve individuals in wheelchairs of all ages, and it will help adults with a walking path, plus stations to help build balance and agility.
The rest of the park will continue to host soccer, although tennis courts and baseball diamonds will be replaced to make way for the customized equipment and design.
How many of our neighbors might benefit from a park like this? You might be surprised.
In La Crosse County, more than 12,000 people older than 5 have a disability. That’s more than 12,000 people — 12 percent of those older than 5.
The idea for the project was sparked several years ago, and it is being led by a consortium that includes the city, county and the La Crosse School District, the city’s parks, recreation and forestry department, Gundersen Health System and Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare, and the La Crosse Area Autism Foundation.
And the spark came from families with special needs.
Amy Hendrickson, whose son Hutson was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder seven years ago, said people like Hutson “look at the world through a different lens, right? So they need different pieces. They may communicate a little bit differently, their sensory needs might be a little bit different from those around them, but generally if you put them in an atmosphere, they’re able to connect in some way.”
Adam Weissenberger, president of the La Crosse Area Autism Foundation, says designing a park to be accessible to all is “interaction at its finest. I think for my son at this point, at age 12, socialization is a big thing. You want that socialization for your child. You want your child to interact and get to learn people and be around people.”
That sense of community is invaluable to parents like Hendrickson and Weissenberger as they consider where they want to live.
As Weissenberger said: “It’s the concept of what community should be.”
The park is near Riverfront and Chileda — agencies that serve clients who would benefit from the park. It would also be a good resource for the Family & Children’s Center.
All Abilities Trane Park would serve as an extension of the classroom for students at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Viterbo University, who would have the opportunity to work with park patrons.
It truly will be a resource for community health and social-service organizations.
Steve Carlyon, director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry in La Crosse, said when he began researching the concept with national organizations of which he is a member, he began to understand that this is a very rare project.
“I have lots of experience with parks,” he said. “I have no experience at doing this.”
So, Carlyon and other committee members did their homework and queried experts, as well as neighbors, to make sure the new park can meet the needs of everyone, including adults, in a manner that will build development and self-worth.
A park for all abilities and all ages would add another dynamic element to our region as it recruits when people to live here.
Organizers say the project is designed to send “a clear message to current residents and anyone considering a move to the area — we provide an environment for those with special needs that cannot be found in any other Midwest community. In fact, with this park project, La Crosse can provide its residents with the kid of park that only exists in a handful of communities throughout the nation.”
You’ll also find information about how to make a tax-deductible contribution at the group’s website, www.tranepark.com.