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July 29, 2013

Locals track progress of barrier-free park

By Nico Rubello
C & G Staff Writer

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Roseville resident Carla Fanson expects that a barrier-free park in Fraser will benefit her 4-year-old son, Mason, who has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Pictured, the two examine proposed renderings of what McKinley Park will look like.

FRASER — Parks can be daunting places for Mason Fanson.

Cerebral palsy makes it difficult for the Roseville 4-year-old to climb onto swings and to scale playscape stairs. He also has epilepsy, so he has to wear a helmet because a fall could trigger a seizure.

He’s too young to understand why he has to wear stabilizing braces on his legs, or why his mother, Carla Fanson, has to hover over him. So he gets frustrated.

And the other children don’t understand it, either, so he gets teased.

Carla Fanson said after some bad encounters with other children, she stopped taking him to parks almost altogether.

“We try to avoid them. We’ll go if they’re not crowded, which is sad to say,” because he’s not getting to socialize with children his age, she said. “The interactions we’ve had haven’t been very positive.”

Fanson hopes that will change with the construction of a barrier-free park at Fraser’s McKinley’s Park, located on Grove Street in the city’s southwest corner.

The mother and son were among those who attended a June 6 groundbreaking at the park.

The Fraser City Council voted on June 13 to commit the city to the project, a necessary step to finalize a $300,000 Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund grant that is paying for a majority of the infrastructure costs associated with the project.

On June 19, the Fraser Planning Commission approved the engineering site plan for the first phase of construction, which includes putting in an Americans with Disabilities-compliant parking lot, pathways, basketball court, a universally accessible restroom and a bus loop.

Linda Davis-Kirksey, the grant writer on the project, said earlier this month that the plan passed the planning commission with muster, but the final artistic look of the park still is coming together.

In the meantime, the Fraser First Booster Club — the nonprofit behind the barrier-free park initiative — was at press time waiting for final approval for the DNR Trust Fund grant, which was awarded in December. The state approval could take a few months, Davis-Kirksey said.

After that, the city will begin soliciting contractor bids when the final grant approval comes back from the state.

Scott Lockwood, the city’s consulting engineer, said in June that the first phase of construction ideally will begin as soon as late summer or early fall and last until spring 2014.

In the meantime, the nonprofit is continuing to seek more corporate sponsorships, along with public and private grants, to cover the remainder of the work, which will include putting in ADA-compliant play structures.

According to the proposal, the barrier-free parks will include ramped playscapes, so everyone can reach the highest decks; colorful, hands-on activity panels; swings with back supports; and a sensory garden, where children with sensory challenges will be able to plant and experience different textures.

Carla Fanson said she expects these features to benefit her son, especially the sensory garden, since Mason also has sensory challenges, brought on by autism spectrum disorders. He loves to garden and play basketball, she said.

And unlike woodchips, the park will include a softer, smooth, flat rubber surface underneath the playscape, which accommodates kids and adults with wheelchairs and those who have trouble balancing.

“I feel Mason will be able to maneuver independently,” she said. “It will give him the freedom.”

Fraser First President Vania Apps said part of the goal for the proposed park will be to raise the level of tolerance and acceptance for all people by better acquainting adults and children both with and without challenges.

Apps said the Fansons have been around the project since its early phases, and that Mason has grown as the project has progressed. The two have been attending every Fraser First fundraiser for the park during the last few years.

But he isn’t alone.

Several other parents of children with physical and sensory challenges have closely charted the initiative’s progress during the last three years, she said.

“It means a lot for them to get (it) finished,” Apps said.

For more information about the barrier-free park initiative, visit www.FraserFirst.com.