A new playground at River Bends Park in Shelby Township that is designed to be accessible to all had its grand opening July 1. The new accessible playground includes 11  musical instruments for  children to play, including drums and chimes.

A new playground at River Bends Park in Shelby Township that is designed to be accessible to all had its grand opening July 1. The new accessible playground includes 11 musical instruments for children to play, including drums and chimes.

Photo provided by Jim Diez


Barrier-free playground opens in Shelby Township

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published July 12, 2021

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP/UTICA — A new all-inclusive playground has made Shelby Township its home with a grand opening and ribbon-cutting that took place at 11:30 a.m. July 1 at River Bends Park, 5700 22 Mile Road.

The project, which included a $220,000 phase I that featured two zip lines, swings, a padded jungle gym and a whirl-go-round, to name a few, and a $45,000 phase II expansion, is the largest of its kind in Macomb County. It was designed with children of all ages and needs in mind, including those who have limited mobility and those who use wheelchairs.

All the equipment is situated on a soft rubber mat surface, and some of the equipment accommodates wheelchair access.

The new, inclusive playground removes physical and social barriers to a sensory-rich experience for all. The playscape provides many different opportunities for children to explore and integrates all the senses; there is a little something for everyone, including those who like to climb, run, spin, slide and swing.

Even during the COVID-19 shutdowns, many community service organizations continued fundraising activities to complete the park and provide music, memories and fun for all ages.

Jim Diez, community project manager with the Shelby Township Lions Club, said the playground’s rubber surface makes access to the playground even easier for those with wheels.

“Beyond being a great playground, (it) goes the extra step of making itself accessible to all kids. The rubber surface allows children with wheelchairs to access all the equipment. Most of the equipment is specifically designed with them in mine,” he said in an email.

Phase II also added an entire musical instrument section of 11 instruments for children to play. The instruments include drums, chimes and xylophones.

Diez said that a mom pushing a child on a swing, or a grandpa and granddaughter pushing each other on a zip line, laughing together, are creating priceless moments.

“It’s a place all can come to and make great family memories,” said Diez.

Diez said knowing that families that have children with disabilities can enjoy the park with other kids is a great feeling.

“The feeling is amplified when I see families with children with disabilities enjoying the park, because it was designed with them in mind. The playground is located near restrooms, and adult change tables are also being added. Shelby Township has also added accessible parking spaces to accommodate the families,” said Diez.

He said he is proud to have been a part of this project to bring children together, and being able to see it in person complete makes it even better.

“I am very proud to play a part in making this vision a reality. I visit the playground often, and I see families having fun. I see fathers showing a boy on how to play the musical instruments or a grandfather and daughter playing on the zip line. I reflect back on my treasured moments as a child spending time with my grandfather and parents. Those are moments we keep forever, (and I’m) happy to know places like this can continue to make those memories for all,” said Diez.

Maureen Kijek, the mom of Drew, a child who can now use the park, said this park is important to the entire community.

“Every person deserves safe, accessible, and welcoming parks and recreational spaces in our neighborhoods so we can play alongside each other. We need to feel as valued and accepted and included as our peers/family/friends without physical and other challenges,” she said in an email.

She said Drew and his friends can spend time enjoying River Bends Park, knowing that additional needs have been considered and respected.

“This means the world to us, as community access is often challenging and excludes people with physical limitations. Often, we are sidelined to watch others enjoy the activities that we cannot participate in, and it is 100% fixable, when people commit to making life accessible for all,” she said.

Macomb County has a population of 865,000 people, and the Macomb Intermediate School District has identified 19,000 children who have special needs.

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