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News / Clark County News

Vancouver’s Esther Short Park now has a playground for everybody

Closed for almost 16 months, facility reopens with a new look and better accessibility

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 29, 2023, 8:57pm
2 Photos
Children play on the merry-go-round at the newly reopened Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver. The merry-go-round is at ground level and has seats to make it more accessible to kids with different abilities.
Children play on the merry-go-round at the newly reopened Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver. The merry-go-round is at ground level and has seats to make it more accessible to kids with different abilities. (William Seekamp/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Shrieks and shouts of joy filled Esther Short Park on Saturday morning as kids in tie-dye, Keens and shirts boasting images of cartoon characters and superheroes moved throughout the newly reopened playground.

Some paused their play to help Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle and other elected officials cut the ribbon, officially reopening the playground nearly 16 months after an arsonist torched it.

The playground has a new look. It still features swings, slides and places to climb, but it is more inclusive, making it possible for youngsters of a variety of abilities to play. For example, slides on the old structure were accessible only by steps, but today people can make their way to the top of the new slides by way of a concrete path, stone steps or a turf hill, which doubles as a sledding hill when it snows.

“We may not use the equipment in the same way, but we can still play together,” Jeremy Robbins, a member of the Vancouver Parks and Recreation advisory commission, said during the ribbon cutting. Robbins makes his way around with the assistance of a wheelchair.

Other features include a merry-go-round at ground level and with seats; plastic swings with seatbacks and over-the-shoulder harnesses, in addition to conventional canvas seat swings; and turf and a concrete path instead of blacktop and wood chips.

“This is a city that invests in inclusion, a city where people are invited to come talk and play,” said McEnerny-Ogle, a former elementary and middle school math teacher.

The park was designed by AKS Engineering and Harper’s Playground, a Portland-based nonprofit organization dedicated to making playgrounds inviting and available to everyone. It was founded by a family after their daughter, Harper, was playing at a local park and her walker got stuck in wood chips.

In addition to the rebuilt playground at Esther Short Park, Harper’s remodeled the playground at Arbor Lodge Park in North Portland and is currently remodeling the firefighter-themed Chelsea Anderson Memorial Play Station at Marshall Park in Vancouver, scheduled to reopen later this year.

The Esther Short Park rebuild cost about $800,000, which was drawn from funds collected from developers of the Vancouver Waterfront Park project, according to the project webpage. City officials estimated the cost of the old structures at $200,000. The play equipment was over 20 years old and ready to be replaced.

Esther Short Park was donated to the city in 1853. It is the oldest public space in Washington and one of the oldest parks on the West Coast. The park’s namesake had 12 children.

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Columbian staff writer