Rockwall’s Yellow Jacket Park barrier-free playground opens with community celebration

(ROCKWALL, TX – August 9, 2015) The re-developed, barrier-free Yellow Jacket Park officially opened on Saturday, August 8 with a ribbon cutting ceremony and celebration hosted by the Rockwall Parks and Recreation Department.

The playground, which is located on Yellow Jacket Lane behind Hobby Lobby, was proposed to the Rockwall City Council by citizens who believed the community needed a park where people with disabilities could play and participate easily. Developers incorporated a wide variety of features that will now make this possible.

After local firefighter Devon Colbert and his wife Emily approached the City Council last year, the idea for a more inclusive park took off. Colbert suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident and is confined to a wheelchair. He said the wood mulch material commonly used on most playgrounds is too difficult to traverse.

“I take my boys to the park all the time, and we found after the accident it was too hard because of the woodchips,” he said.

Council members thought the park could also benefit children with autism, Down syndrome, and other wheelchair bound disabilities. They held an open meeting and listened to input from parents on what elements to include in the park.

Nikki Jenkins, whose 11-year-old daughter Emma has autism, said she was thrilled to have the opportunity to voice her opinion at the meeting.

“They gave the floor to the parents,” Jenkins said. “It was very open and they were very understanding and compassionate. By the end, everybody was on the same page.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jenkins said when parents suggested that the park would need a fence and additional handicapped parking spaces, the city council was immediately willing to comply.

“They were great,” Jenkins said. “I can’t say one negative thing.”

Rockwall Parks and Recreation Manager Andy Hesser said the community suggestions were an invaluable part of the process.

“We had great public input meetings,” Hesser said. “We discovered a whole new community of families. This addresses some very specific needs based on their input, and that is great to see.”

Some of the most notable features of the park include: 5,100 square feet of shade structure, 100% rubber flooring that makes the entire area wheelchair accessible, multiple ramps, swings with high backs for upper body support, musical instruments, touch panels with sensory games, unique bouncing, swinging and climbing elements, a gigantic rocker, and “cozy cocoons” where children can curl up and escape commotion.

Jenkins said she is particularly excited about the cocoons, because they are very helpful to children with autism.

“They like to regroup and comfort themselves,” she said.

Hesser said the tactile panels and musical instruments were also geared towards children with autism.

“We heard that music play was very important for kids on the autism spectrum,” he said.

Jenkins agreed that the music stations would be a hit.

“That will be tremendous,” she said. “That will honestly be my daughter’s favorite.”

Jenkins said she is looking forward to having a place to bring her daughter without worrying about problems she might encounter normally at a local park.

“It will mean a safe place to take our daughter where she can be herself and enjoy the playground,” Jenkins said. “We won’t have to worry about her disability;  it won’t hinder her. That’s a lot of parents’ biggest worry: can my child fit in and interact?”

On opening day, Hesser said it was a delight to see so many kids enjoying the playground.

“I think for me it’s very rewarding to see the joy on the kids’ faces as they’re playing in the park,” Hesser said. “This is the most rewarding project I’ve ever done, and I’ve been doing this for 20 years.”

Devon Colbert said he was excited to be able to play with his sons once again.

“It’s amazing to be able to go around the entire place with the boys,” he said. “It’s something I haven’t done in two and a half years.”

Emily Colbert said she was overcome with emotion.

“I’ve seen a lot of children in wheelchairs, and they wouldn’t normally be able to do this,” she said. “To see everybody, able-bodied or not, interacting is incredible. It’s not about our family, it’s what this means to the community.”

Story and photos by Julie Anne White, Blue Ribbon News reporter.  

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