Get Your Play On
By Kelly Bonner
Personally, I love to go to parks. It’s one of my favorite things to do when we travel – well, that and eat, of course! Just like tasting the local cuisine, checking out the local park is a great way to see what that town really has to offer. I’m not even picky about what type of park it is. From national monuments, to hikes on unknown paths, to lots of nature in the Florida Everglades, I love to take in the views and the smells. I don’t know if there is anything better than taking a hike on the Appalachian Trail in the fall with the cool mountain air all around and the colorful leaves shining in the sunlight. Even right now as I sit here baking in the summer heat, if I close my eyes, I can almost smell the mountain mist of an early morning hike in the Great Smokies. I was raised a city girl, but was fortunate enough to spend most of my summers in the hills of North Carolina at my grandparents’ house, located just steps away from the Appalachian Trail (AT). Those summers spent in the woods definitely fostered my love of the outdoors. When I went off to college, one of the things I loved about the school I had chosen was that it smelled like my summers spent in the mountains. You know how certain smells can take you right back to a different place and a pleasant memory. That’s how it was for me every time I got up to walk to my 8:00 AM classes. Sure, the city has its smells too, but I can’t say I’ve ever been excited about any of those.
My husband and I love to travel, and we have had the opportunity to do so quite a bit in our years of marriage. Much of that travel has allowed us to #getourplayon in many ways at parks across the U.S. From the saw grass and alligators of the Florida Everglades, to the gorgeous snow covered mountains of the Rockies, to the historic monuments scattered across D.C., we’ve been mountain biking, hiking, whitewater rafting – you name it from sea to shining sea. We have traveled every year of our marriage. Sometimes, our travels take us to faraway places in other countries, and other times, they take us back to my grandparents’ house in the mountains. No matter where we go in order to "get our play on", we always have to ask one question – "How accessible is that?". You want to take a horseback ride through the mountains – how accessible is that? Want to stay at a cabin with gorgeous views at Estes Park - how accessible is that? Mountain biking in Colorado, whitewater rafting in North Carolina, Frisbee golf at a local course, or just taking our daughter to our neighborhood park all result in asking the same question. Along the way, we have encountered some great and not so great answers to that question. For example, we’ve had great experiences whitewater rafting and horseback riding in the mountains of North Carolina (To read more about that click here!). The everglades offered us a paved trail throughout the park to get up close and personal with nature. There was no fence between us and the alligators! We have found sections of the AT that are paved so that my husband can get a glimpse of one of my favorite past times. We’ve also done triathlons and 5K’s in local parks all across the country. However, I must say, our favorite and most epic adventure to date was downhill mountain biking in Crested Butte Co. (Read more about that here!) They take you up to the top of the mountain and then you get to ride down on a four wheel bike outfitted with only shocks and breaks - the later of which were rarely used by my husband - as we flew around curves with major drop-offs and made our way back down the mountain at lightning speeds. I don’t know if I have ever seen my husband so happy, and parks give us that! Parks offer the opportunity for family fun in more ways than I can mention and in ways that just can’t be done in any other place. As our daughter gets older, I can’t wait to bring her along on our park adventures. I really look forward to the day when I don’t have to try and explain to our daughter why daddy can’t join us. Even though we have had some great adventures together, more oftentimes than not, accessibility prevents us from participating. Moreover, the question we always have to ask, “how accessible is that?” …the answer is usually, “it’s not.”
All the way down to our neighborhood park, which is just a block away from our house, but completely inaccessible to my husband because both play structures have large plastic bumpers around the area without any cuts to push through. My husband who is someone who is able to hop down a curb, pop a wheelie over a bump, or even push through some uninviting terrain is completely unable to take his daughter to the park merely because of accessibility. When people talk about barriers to participation, they don’t get any clearer than that. It is a literal barrier in the way of him playing with his daughter.
Inclusion matters to millions of Americans, including me. As we celebrate National Park and Recreation month, I think it’s no coincidence that we also celebrate the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA has made great strides in allowing access to parks for the millions of Americans with disability. I hope that one day we are able to look beyond the ADA to universal design in all places and spaces so that one day when we head out on another epic family park adventure we don’t have to ask, “how accessible is that?” before we go.
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