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Woodstock looks to bring in inclusive playground for ages 8 to 80

Matthew Underwood, right, 7, of Huntley, goes down the slide with his brother, Ethan, 2, Wednesday, April 20, 2022, as they play at Deicke Park in Huntley, which features an accessible playground. Woodstock plans on building an inclusive playground that is meant to be more accessible for children with handicaps or disabilities at Emricson Park.

Terry Willcockson was all set to retire, when a project in need of grant funding came along that will keep her busy through the summer.

“I can’t retire now,” said Willcockson, Woodstock’s grants and communications manager. “I’ve got to see this happen. It’s a fascinating project.”

The project, named Nature’s Way, is a planned inclusive playground for Emricson Park that would be for “ages eight to 80,” Willcockson said.

Some of the amenities that would make the playground inclusive or more accessible include: a rubber mobility surface that would benefit users with issues walking, installations designed to look like plants or vehicles, low impact exercise equipment, zero-depth circle spinners for users with wheelchairs and musical equipment.

“It blows my mind how fun these playgrounds are,” Willcockson said.

What makes it into the final project depends on how much money the city can raise, with the goal being $1 million, WIllcockson said.

Renderings of creative thematic structures that could be part of a new inclusive playground the city hopes to build in 2023 at Emricson Park in Woodstock.

The playground would be the first of its kind in McHenry County designed to appeal to all ages, Willcockson said.

An inclusive playground at Deicke Park in Huntley, offers some of the playground structures Woodstock hopes to build, but Willcockson said that playground was geared more for younger kids.

When the project was introduced at a Woodstock City Council meeting in February, parents and community members voiced their approval, with many describing a past or present lack of outdoor opportunities for their special needs children.

“Nothing can change a closed mind quicker than knowing someone who’s life experience is different than yours,” one mother said in a letter to the council. “It begins at a young age. On the playground, if you will.”

Ethan Underwood, 2, of Huntley, runs around the playground Wednesday, April 20, 2022, at he plays at Deicke Park in Huntley, which features an accessible playground. Woodstock plans on building an inclusive playground that is meant to be more accessible for children with handicaps or disabilities at Emricson Park.

Linda Warriner, a former special education teacher at Woodstock North High School who retired last year, recalled taking students to Emricson Park.

“I can’t tell you how many times we took kids to Emricson Park and tried to have fun,” she said. “The kids in wheelchairs would just go around in a square and watch the other kids on the swing. It’s a nice place, but so often we wished we could have more for these guys.”

The City Council passed a resolution in March fronting $400,000, which is less than half the money needed for all the proposed amenities.

Another $75,000 was approved as part of the 2022-23 budget in April, Willcockson said, but that still leaves her busy writing grants to try and find more funding sources for the project.

It could take another six to eight months before Woodstock begins to hear back on whether they received the grants they applied for, Willcockson said.

The city also has partnered with the Community Foundation of McHenry County to fundraise.

Renderings of creative thematic structures that could be part of a new inclusive playground the city hopes to build in 2023 at Emricson Park in Woodstock.

The city’s new marketing department, which is being organized by executive director Danielle Gulli and hiring for which is expected to finished by early May, is working on developing a public campaign to solicit donations and support, Willcockson said.

The Community Foundation set up a fund in early April to help raise money, said Marcey Sink, the Community Foundation’s senior director of community engagement.

“We are really excited to be a partner on this project,” Sink said. “We hope people will want to get in on something brand new like this.”

While renderings shown at the February meeting showed the possibilities an inclusive playground could have, actual proposals will come once funding is in place and the city can draft a formal request for proposals for design and installation, Willcockson said.

Willcockson said she is committed to seeing the project through from its planning phase to construction, which she hopes will be completed by next summer.

“I will retire when the playground is open,” Willcockson said.