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An inclusive playground isn’t coming to Fort Mill. Here’s where it will go instead.

Fort Mill Elementary School goes girl powered

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Almost 90 girls came together with a problem at Fort Mill Elementary School, that women make up a low number of workers in STEM-related fields.

The long-awaited Fort Mill park where anyone can play is still happening, but it won’t be in Fort Mill.

All Play Together and the City of Tega Cay announced that the years-long effort to bring an all-inclusive playground will result in a revamped Trailhead Park. The playground had targeted the coming sports park in Fort Mill, on land donated as part of the Waterside at the Catawba subdivision.

Lori Christison, organizer with All Play Together, said there were “challenges that both the Town of Fort Mill and All Play Together acknowledged” with the sloped Waterside site.

Alternate sites were suggested, one in Fort Mill and the other in Tega Cay.

The All Play Together Board went with Trailhead Park in Tega Cay.

“Our plan is to include all the features that we had hoped to have at Waterside,” Christison said.

The inclusive playground idea started to gain steam at a Fort Mill Town Council meeting Sept. 12, 2016.

Dozens of families filled the room to ask for a playground where anyone, people with limited mobility or who face a variety of physical challenges, could play. Families said there are inclusive playgrounds, but not within a reasonable drive from Fort Mill.

The town and All Play Together began work, and it was later announced the 25-acre Waterside site would be home to the park. A variety of fundraisers throughout Fort Mill have been held since.

All Play Together said it would need about $500,000 for the park.

All Play Together is meeting with engineers about laying out the site. The group targets a 2019 opening.

There are no immediate plans for other locations or park expansions.

“Our goal right now is to get this inclusive playground completed and get children playing on it,” Christison said.

Tega Cay is willing.

“We are, here in the near future, going to be converting Trailhead Park into an all-inclusive playground,” said Charlie Funderburk, city manager. “The first of its kind in this area. I am super, super excited about this.”

Funderburk said the city and All Play Together will meet “in the coming weeks” to determine a project time line. Construction will impact Trailhead, the site off Tega Cay Drive with playground equipment, bathrooms, trails and more.

“There will be a period of time where Trailhead Park will be closed for business, but when it reopens, it’ll have something magical,” Funderburk said.

Tega Cay City Council members expressed support.

“I’m super excited,” said Councilwoman Heather Overman. “This has been really hard for me to keep this secret for so long. I’m excited we can finally talk about it.”

Overman had no problem supporting the park plan.

“I completely believe in this mission,” she said. “I believe in support in the project.”

Councilman Ryan Richard made his support personal.

“My council pay for the next three months, we’ll donate directly to (the All Play Together) cause,” he said.

All Play Together is about 60 percent to its financial goal. A new tile painting campaign and other efforts are helping to raise funds. Numerous school and civic activities the past year or so have helped.

“We’re moving forward,” Christison said. “We still have a ways to go.”

Because restrooms, handcapped parking and relatively level ground already are in place at Trailhead, All Play Together felt like it was a solid choice. Waterside is still some time off, and there were topographic concerns there.

“That already gives us a better time line,” Christison said about moving to Trailhead. “Certainly timeliness was a factor in making our decision.”

Even in the past couple of months, planning for its annual budget process, Fort Mill leaders have discussed inclusive playground features whether at Waterside or other locations in town. Presently, there aren’t firm plans in place.

“We are continuing to work on projects and we don’t have a actual time yet on when that type of playground will be installed in Fort Mill,” said Brown Simpson, town parks and recreation director.

Even with the move, Christison said the idea is for a park serving Fort Mill, Tega Cay, Indian Land and surrounding areas.

“It’s long overdue, and I feel like we’re getting very close to being able to realize our goal,” she said.

It won’t just be for people using wheelchairs, walkers or needing special swings or equipment, either.

“We are very excited to be partnering with you to create this inclusive play space that can be enjoyed not only by those families who need a place like this to play, but also for the entire community,” Christison told Tega Cay City Council at the recent announcement. “It’s a playground that can be enjoyed by everyone.”

John Marks: jmarks@fortmilltimes.com; @JohnFMTimes
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