Tuesday, July 23, 2019 Elyria 64°

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New Cascade Park continues to take shape

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    From left, Jim Ziemnik, director of the Lorain County Metro Parks and co-chairman of the Elyria Rotary’s Playground Implementation Committee; Mary Siwierka, Elyria safety service director and Elyria Rotary president; Amber Fisher, chairwoman of the Centennial Steering Comittee; Greg Kruszka, chairman of the Rotary’s fundraising committee; and Mark Skellenger, community relations chairman for Elyria Rotary, stand in front of the new inclusive playground at Cascade Park in Elyria on Thursday.



    The new inclusive playground at Cascade Park, in Elyria, features a bear on the playground equipment that pays homage to the bears that once were at Cascade Park.



    Greg Kruszka (Chair of Fundraising for the Elyria Rotary Club), Amber Fisher (Chair of Centennial Steering Comittee), Mary Siwierka (Elyria City Safety Service and current president of the Elyria Rotary Club), Mark Skellenger (Elyria Rotary Club Community Relations Chair), and Jim Ziemnik (Director of Secretary for the Lorain County Metro Parks, and Co-Chair of the Playground Implementation Committee) stand in front of the newly constructed inclusive playground at Cascade Park, in Elyria on Thursday, July 19.



    The new inclusive playground at Cascade Park, in Elyria, features toys that will help students with sensory and physical disabilities enjoy the playground with their peers.



ELYRIA — In late 2013, with an eye toward the 2018 when the Elyria Rotary Club would celebrate its centennial, the community service organization came up with an ambitious plan to fund Elyria’s first inclusive playground.

The fundraising target was a big one: $350,000.

“It was the target we had and exactly what we raised,” said Greg Kruszka, an Elyria Rotarian and chairman of the fundraising committee. “Our members were extremely generous. We have 110 members and raised about $1,000 per member in personal donations. This is our gift to the city to celebrate the Elyria Rotary Club’s founding in 1918.”

Located in Elyria’s Cascade Park, which is managed by the Lorain County Metro Parks in cooperation with the city of Elyria, the colorful playground is a rock- and water-themed play area that is open to children of all abilities. The water portion of the park stops short of being a full splash pad but offers a wet play experience for children, said Metro Parks Director Jim Ziemnik, also an Elyria Rotarian.

The playground may be Cascade’s new focal point, but the park has significantly transformed under the direction of the parks district.

Cascade Park underwent major changes in 2017 and early 2018, resulting in rotating park closures. The work included construction of a new entrance off Furnace Street, signage, parking, gate and overlook, plus shelters and restrooms.

Now, a major portion of the city’s historic park is set to reopen to the public in a ceremony scheduled for 2 p.m. July 29. Then, park district officials will join representatives from the city of Elyria and Elyria Rotary Club for a ribbon-cutting and dedication.

“See the hat tip to the past,” said Mark Skellenger, Elyria Rotarian and chair of the community relations committee, as he pointed out Thursday a bear statue peeking over one of the play structures. “Anyone who has been in Cascade Park in the past will remember the bears in the park. They have a place here again.”

With 100 years of history and giving back to the community to draw on for inspiration, the playground takes Elyria children into the future with a play area that leaves no one out. It is something one of the club’s first members, Edgar Fiske “Daddy” Allen, likely would get behind if he was here today.

While not a founding member of the Elyria Rotary, Allen joined the club a year after its incorporation.

Allen was also the driving force behind the creation of Elyria’s first hospital that opened 17 months after a railcar crash in 1907 killed eight passengers, including Allen’s 18-year-old son. Then, while volunteering at the hospital, Allen befriended a boy staying at the hospital in an effort to straighten his legs.

Those interactions led to another fundraising campaign and the opening in April 1915 of the Gates Hospital for Crippled Children, the first facility of its kind.

In 1919, at the urging of Allen and spearheaded by the Elyria Rotary Club, several Ohio Rotary Clubs met and formed the Ohio Society for Crippled Children, which later became Easter Seals.

“The idea of an inclusive playground was an easy sell with the members,” Kruszka said. “With the Elyria Rotary’s proud history of supporting efforts for disabled children and the Lorain County Metro Parks’ track record of developing, managing and securing parks in our community, we thought what a great way to spend $350,000.

In addition to member pledges, the goal was reached through a capital campaign that including gifts to the Elyria Rotary from local foundations, area businesses and personal donations from past Elyria Rotarians and supporters.

“It seemed like a very large goal in the beginning, but we were able to successfully raise the money and honor the community with this gift,” said Elyria Rotary President Mary Siwierka, also Elyria’s safety service director.

With sensory elements to capture the senses of sight, hearing and touch along with varied and accessible play equipment, the playground allows families to enjoy the same space regardless of ability.

“One of our goals is to find places for children with developmental disabilities to play and interact with their families, friends and typical-developing peers. But we really didn’t have that in Elyria,” said Elyria Rotarian and Murray Ridge Superintendent Amber Fischer. “It’s not about finding a place for people with disabilities. It’s about having a place in the community for people with disabilities to interact with their community.”

The Lorain County Metro Parks Hollstein Reservation in Amherst hosts the county’s first public inclusive playground. When it opened in 2013, it was the first of its kind in Lorain County. Avon also has opened an inclusive playground.

The July 29 dedication is open to the public. However, parking is limited at the park. A shuttle service to get people to and from the park will start at noon from the West Avenue parking lot of Elyria High School. The shuttle will run continuously until 4:30 p.m.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.

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