It’s been nearly a year since a grand re-opening of a municipal park-inclusive playground in Northampton Township, Bucks County, and community leaders are looking back at the park’s impact.
The grand re-opening of the Miracle League Municipal Park Inclusive Playground took place in September 2022. The event was a milestone for a cherished community gathering space that now could also offer children and families full accessibility.
The Northampton inclusive playground project was more than five years in the making.
Nancy Opalka has invested more than 30 years of her career in parks and recreation for Northampton Township, including as a swimming instructor for young people with special needs.
She only recently retired as director.
“I’m walking away from this role knowing it’s in good hands and that the playground will create more happy memories for generations to come,” she said.
The Miracle League of Northampton Township is a non-profit organization supporting over 250 individuals with disabilities across Bucks County and neighboring communities through their baseball, basketball, soccer, and bowling programs.
Allan Corless is a Miracle League board member, vice president of Neshaminy Constructors, and an inclusive baseball and rugby coach.
He and other dedicated Miracle League board members spearheaded the development of an all-inclusive baseball field near the playground in 2012.
Around 2015, Miracle League board members Mike Fitzgerald and Brian Damiani recognized that families would hang out at the existing playground before and after Miracle League baseball games.
The playground was originally built in 2004 with the help of General Recreation.
Corless saw an opportunity to do more.
“The chance to make the nearby playground fully accessible and adaptive seemed like the best next step,” said Corless. “And this was a unique opportunity to revamp and further expand an already bustling spot.”
They immediately returned to General Recreation to do the playground upgrade and expansion.
“We’d been planning for the playground renovation and expansion in earnest since 2018, anticipating construction in 2020. Once that was done, my plan was to retire,” Opalka recalled.
Then the COVID-related delays started as they worked to secure more funds and grants.
Construction finally started in early 2022 and the community build for the project was held in spring 2022.
More than 50 local residents and business partners rallied together for the build, which also included some of Nancy’s family.
“It was a beautiful day,” says Corliss, whose construction company prepared the site to get it ready for the playground installation.
The now-inclusive playground sits on a 130-acre site and is within walking distance of the ADA-accessible baseball field and other multi-purpose fields.
About 95 percent of the original equipment remained.
With new adaptive play elements from playground equipment manufacturer Landscape Structures, the playground area was expanded from about 5,000 square feet to 9,000 square feet.
Accessible benches and tables were added. A new accessible rubber safety surfacing was installed to complete the project.
The playground features provide ample play experiences to deepen sensory, motor, cognitive and social/emotional skills.
The Landscape Structures elements include drums and chimes from their Rhapsody Outdoor Musical Instruments line, the Oodle Swing, Roller Table, Global Motion, Rain Sound Wheel, We-Saw, Sensory Play Center, a fully ramped play structure including a Sway Fun Glider, and more.
Since the grand re-opening, the playground has been drawing people from all over. It’s also becoming a built-in stop for families traveling through the region.
“It was tremendous to close out my career on the completion of the playground. To see the families play and hear how much they love it is amazing,” shares Opalka.
“We also really enjoyed working with General Recreation on the evolution of the playground,” Corless added. “As a fellow business owner/contractor, you just know when a company has strong leadership. And it’s very rewarding to see the kids so happy.”
General Recreation Inc. in Newtown Square serves Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, and has helped hundreds of community leaders and organizations build playgrounds that are safe, aesthetically pleasing, and made to last.