PORTLAND — Kids wind their way through the trees at Arbor Lodge Park, cardboard in tow as they head toward Harper’s Hill. The grassy, smooth slope features a slide and a spiraling, wheelchair accessible path to the top. They are signatures of Harper’s Playground, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making playgrounds inviting and available to everyone.
Monday morning marked the groundbreaking for Vancouver’s first Harper’s Playground, at Marshall Park. The new playground will share many similar features with Arbor Lodge in North Portland, the original Harper’s Playground.
Where it started
Cody Goldberg founded Harper’s Playground in 2010, one year after he and his wife April realized that playgrounds were inaccessible to their daughter, Harper. Her walker’s wheels stuck in the bark chips surrounding the park’s play area.
Vancouver’s playground will continue with the Chelsea Anderson playground’s current firefighter theme. The Vancouver Fire Department has donated an old firetruck to be refitted and built into the new playground.
“We’re pretty excited about the firetruck and its real addition to the park,” Goldberg said.
Some similarities between Arbor Lodge and Marshall Park will include a sand and water play area along with the largest version of the organization’s signature Harper’s Hill.
Realistic and whimsical bronze sea turtles can be found throughout Arbor Lodge. Built in 2012, the park features communal seating areas, a climbing structure, log and rope balancing and a xylophone. Marshall Park will have versions of these same structures, with the addition of extra xylophones, one on either side of the park.
Shasta Kearns Moore, the founder of weekly newsletter MedicalMotherhood.com, which shares information on raising disabled children, lives in South Portland with her twin sons, one of whom has cerebral palsy and uses a power chair to get around.
“We would make the journey (to Arbor Lodge) because all the parks surrounding us had bark chips,” Kearns Moore said. “My son really liked the wheel with water which would run down to a sand pit. It allowed him to connect with the kids at the bottom while he was in his chair.”
Breaking new ground
Speakers at the Vancouver ground-breaking included Cowlitz Tribal Elder Tanna Engdahl, Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, Pence Construction CEO Paul Schulz, Vancouver Fire Chief Brennan Blue, AKS Engineering & Forestry landscaping consultant Kirsti Hauswald and Harper’s Playground Chair Kristin Kolasinski, along with Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Julie Hannon. The playground resides on Cowlitz ancestral land.
Blue took a moment to recognize Chelsea Anderson, the 3-year-old daughter of retired Vancouver Fire Capt. Curt Anderson, whom the park memorializes. “We are deeply invested in making sure the legacy of Chelsea Anderson lives on,” Blue said. “We’re looking forward to keeping the spirit of all those who put so much effort into creating this.”
Bronze sculptures by artist Pete Helzer will be incorporated into the park, displaying both realistic and whimsical sea turtles along with native animals. Marshall Park will also have a We-Go-Swing, which features a bench on one side and space for a wheelchair in the other.
“We are thrilled to continue Chelsea Anderson’s memory,” McEnerny-Ogle said. “It will look a little different and we’re excited to have Harper’s Playground as a partner to provide truly accessible play for the entire Vancouver community.”
The Vancouver City Council unanimously approved the new park project on June 27. Construction is scheduled to start Tuesday, with the majority of work needing to happen during the summer.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony is set to take place sometime between mid-December and mid-January, Goldberg said. Harper’s Playground is also currently working with the city on building a new playground at Esther Short Park.