- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2007

At Clemyjontri Park in McLean, everyone can play. Paths are flat and rubberized. The ramps are placed so that a wheelchair can roll right up to the slide. Many swings include safety features to accommodate children with a variety of physical limitations.

Adele Lebowitz envisioned a place like Clemyjontri Park when she donated her 18-acre estate to Fairfax County. The only condition: that the land be preserved as parkland and include a playground for children with disabilities.

That all-inclusive spirit is something Mrs. Lebowitz and her husband, Mortimer, advocated for years. Mr. Lebowitz founded Morton’s Department Store in the District in the 1930s. He was a civic leader who, years before the civil rights movement, was one of the first business owners to integrate his store.

The 2-acre, $6 million playground — named for Mrs. Lebowitz’s children, Carolyn, Emily, John and Patrina — opened in October. Since then, more than 46,000 people have slid, swung and enjoyed the park’s unique features, says Fairfax County Park Authority spokeswoman Judy Pedersen.

“There has been no drop-off, even in the coldest days of the winter,” she says.

It is understandable why the playground has been such a hit with able-bodied as well as disabled children. It is enormous, bright and clean and features shady spots for hot days. There are wide-open spaces — such as the “drag strip” on which to race. There are swings and slides, an educational maze and an open firetruck for climbing and pretending. There are balance beams and bouncy things and airplanes to “fly.”

“This is the first time I have been here — it is wonderful,” says Bethany O’Neill of Haymarket, Va. Mrs. O’Neill has brought her two children, a 3-year-old and an infant, quite a distance for a day at the park.

Mrs. O’Neill’s friend Katy McMahon of Manassas says the soft surface underfoot is great for her children, ages 20 months and 3.

“I like that by playing here they will be exposed to kids with disabilities,” Mrs. McMahon says. “It’s an eye-opener. There are not ramps like this everywhere. There is so much you take for granted.”

The Fairfax County Parks Foundation did a lot of research to make the park accessible to everyone. Planners talked to special-needs teachers, consultants and architects to plan the playground, says project manager Mark Holsteen.

The rubber flooring surface was the key to making the playground a reality, he says. Walkers, wheelchairs and other support devices cannot get through the mulch that covers a typical playground. The surface also drains quickly, so water does not pool on it after a rainstorm.

Other adaptations at the playground are more subtle. The Rainbow Room section of the playground features panels with Braille, sign language and pictures. The Schoolhouse and Maze section has an educational focus, with panels diagramming dinosaurs, the solar system and a world map, as well as other teaching tools.

Shannon Johnson, an instructional aide for a class of mentally and physically challenged students at George Mason High School in Falls Church, says she has taken her class to Clemyjontri Park several times.

“We have two students in wheelchairs,” she says. “The chairs fit on the ramps and on the playground, which is great.”

In the center of the park is a carousel, which also is adapted for all kinds of users. Riders do not have to step up to board the carousel platform. There are chariots where wheelchairs can serve as seats, and several horses stay in a fixed position rather than going up and down, Mr. Holsteen says.

WHEN YOU GO:

Location: Clemyjontri Park is located at 6317 Georgetown Pike in McLean.

Directions: Take the Beltway to Exit 44 toward Langley and merge onto Georgetown Pike. The park is on the right after about 2.2 miles.

Hours: The park is open daily from 7 a.m. to dusk.

Admission: Free

Parking: Free parking is available on-site. Overflow parking is available at Langley Fork Park, 6250 Georgetown Pike.

More information: 703/388-2807

Notes: Besides the numerous slides, swings, playhouses, mazes and other playground equipment at Clemyjontri Park, there are several covered picnic areas and a handicapped-accessible carousel. Carousel rides cost $1.50. The carousel is open weekends until May 28; after that, it will be open daily until Sept. 3.

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