- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2001

"A common ground for kids."

That's the theme of the newest Hadley's Park the metro area's second at the edge of Dulles Town Center. This remarkable playground is designed to integrate the play of all children those who have special needs and those who don't.

The long, winding ramp ascending into the play structure; the low-lying equipment; and the smooth, spongy material underfoot all hint at the intentions behind the park's creation to be a place where children with special needs can laugh, run, climb and explore.

Hadley's Park is a dream turned into reality. In 1992, Maryland mother Shelley Kramm's baby daughter Hadley suffered a disabling cranial hemorrhage. Had-ley's disability made it impossible for the child to use traditional playgrounds; she could only sit and watch other children play.

Her mother sprang into action, and by 1996, Mrs. Kramm had gathered sponsors, benefactors and parents and created Hadley's Park Inc., a nonprofit organization focused on building unique playgrounds for all children.

She gathered a board of directors, created drawings of her playground ideas and attended a national meeting of a recreation association to learn about playground design and construction to aid her in designing her prototype, one of the first inclusive parks in the nation.

Her first site in Potomac has been well-received; others are planned for locations including McLean, Bethesda, Silver Spring and the District. The Dulles site, which opened last winter, brings Hadley's Park to Northern Virginians. My two children, ages 3 and 5, acted as testers. Neither is disabled, and both enjoyed the playground.

The Main Street USA theme, with its little post office and florist, encourages pretend play. The main structure is continuous, with ladders and slides and crawl spaces.

There are clean steel benches, bouncy cars on springs, counting beads and a low-lying alligator to crawl over or sit on.

Kristin Boruschko's newborn son snoozed in a stroller on their first visit to the playground; her able-bodied 2-year-old son dashed about.

"We're here just to try it out," the Ashburn mother said. "He really likes it here because he can do everything himself. I don't have to climb up with him."

Her friend Karyn Denton of Leesburg agreed.

"They can do everything themselves here," she said as her 3-year-old daughter sped by. Meanwhile, my 3-year-old son galloped up and down the ramp of the play structure like a sprinter.

There were no children with special needs at the park that day, a gorgeous Friday morning, but about 20 children were there with mothers and grandmothers. All of the children appeared to be age 5 and younger, and all appeared to be having a boatload of fun.

That's one goal of Hadley's Park: to be a fun place for all children. It also is intended to meet safety guidelines, be accessible to all in every area of the space and serve as a place for physical therapists to coordinate their sessions.

Joann Goforth's daughter and nephew, both 3, didn't care about any of this. They just wanted to have a good time, and Hadley's gave it to them.

"They're loving it," said Mrs. Goforth, who was visiting nearby relatives from her home in Jacksonville, N.C. "This place has different stages of stuff for different stages of development. It's awesome that they built the park for special-needs children, but there's nothing about it that anyone wouldn't like."


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