Marti Park playground upgrades keep all the kids happy | Local News

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Emily Mortimer of New Wilmington is grateful that her child with special needs has a safe place to play and interact with other children.

Three innovative playgrounds built in recent years at Marti Park in Wilmington Township, including one handicap accessible.

The playgrounds are the result of the passion and dedication of Debbie Marti Kennedy and her husband Dan Kennedy, a township supervisor, who have been fundraising and planning park improvements for several years.

The 22.24-acre park was named in memory of Debbie’s father, the late Jacobo Marti, who came from Switzerland and opened the cheese factory on Routes 18 and 208 decades ago. Thus, the park has been and continues to be a project close to his heart.

The handicap-accessible playground, completed last year, caught the eye of PlayCore’s Community Research and Education Center, through which the equipment was obtained. PlayCore has designated Marti Park as a national demonstration site, calling it a “model project of excellence” due to its non-proprietary features and design.

A robust and balanced assortment of play activities in the park supports the physical, social-emotional, sensory, cognitive and communicative needs of all children, including those with disabilities, the center wrote in a press release about the award. “We commend Wilmington Township for turning research into practice and delivering evidence-based solutions that create healthier, happier communities through the power of play and recreation.”

Debbie Kennedy did the lion’s share of the paperwork to get the projects moving. Knowing Mortimer’s situation, she sought the advice of a family with a child with special needs.

“Just having something so accessible in this community is wonderful,” Mortimer said. He takes care of the needs of his daughter, who has autism, and her whole family can enjoy the park.

“You don’t have to have a child with special needs to use the playground, but it allows my daughter to be part of a group that plays,” Mortimer said. “It’s nice that they also have a rubberized surface so if she falls it’s more forgiving, especially with her (limited) mobility.”

Mortimer was so enthusiastic about it that she worked with Kennedy to write letters and raise funds for the playgrounds, and there are still more fundraisers and projects planned.

“It’s unbelievable that a city and region as small as us have this,” marvels Mortimer. “A lot of time, money and thought has gone into this, and it really benefits everyone.”

Shelly Carlo of Wilmington Township also appreciates the thought and effort that has gone into this special playground, and she too wrote a letter to accompany a grant application.

Carlo, whose 22-year-old daughter, Gabby, has CHARGE Syndrome due to birth defects, is confined to a wheelchair and unable to walk or propel herself.

“Having a place to take it locally that’s not only accessible but in the New Wilmington area is wonderful,” Shelly said, noting that most other places have limitations and challenges.

“We can take Gabby there and she can be with her peers in the same environment that they enjoy,” she said.

The three playgrounds were installed in phases with modern climbing, swing and slide equipment, as well as cognitive stations.

Kennedy explained that after the first playground was built near the main clubhouse, people didn’t use it enough because there were no restrooms nearby. She and her husband then decided to build the second near the unnamed stream that runs through the park. This one, completed in 2020, was fitted with two restrooms and features slides, monkey bars, swings, a merry-go-round, spring-loaded plane and a “mommy and me” swing for two. It also has a “swing between two”, where two people can sit facing each other to swing.

“It’s become our most popular playground,” Debbie said.

The ADA playground came next, along with national recognition. It is closer to the park entrance and has wheelchair ramps to access the playground. One of the pieces of equipment is a “rock and wave” that looks like a boat and can fit a wheelchair, and it rocks back and forth to give a rocking feel.

There’s also a toddlers’ area, “which is a huge hit,” she said, adding, “We’re really proud of this play area.”

The Kennedys did a lot of research for the planning of the park, they wrote a lot of letters and contacted a lot of people.

“I’ve talked to a lot of parents of kids with special needs,” Debbie said, asking them what they’d like to see to help their kids feel included. She also consulted gym teacher Pat Anderson at Wilmington High School, who teaches adaptive gym classes.

In addition to the playgrounds, the park has a walking path around the soccer fields, where 8,000 feet of drain have been installed. The trail joins a nature trail that crosses the wooded area of ​​the park and runs along the stream.

To date, the improvements have totaled $567,000, made possible by donations and two recreation grants totaling $177,500 from the State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and a statutory grant of $50,000 from the intermediary of State Senator Elder Vogel.

The Foundation’s donors to date are the Mae Emma Hoyt Foundation, the Almira Foundation, the Carolyn Knox Foundation, the Bruce Foundation, and the Pittsburgh Foundation through a private donor.

Other community donors include the Cheese House, Ellwood Specialty Steel Co., Landolph Enterprises (Wilmington Mini-Storage), former Lawrence County Board of Commissioners, current Board of Commissioners, from COVID- 19; Kiwanis Club of New Castle; First National Bank, Huston Group, Jeemco Inc., Central Heating and Plumbing, Mortimer Excavating, Smith Paving; and others whose donations were smaller or private.

The township provided labor for the projects.

Funds have also been raised through annual craft shows in the park, supported by local community groups.

Kennedy, whose work for the park is entirely voluntary, said there are still big plans for further development. These include installing a wheelchair-accessible washroom with a larger changing table, adding a kitchenette near the large clubhouse, demolishing the amphitheater and replacing it with a vinyl gazebo, install another pavilion or pickle ball court, add a quarter mile walking path to complete a 1 mile loop and replace part of the chain-link fence. These businesses are estimated to cost an additional $223,000, she said. It is also planned to install cameras and Wi-Fi.

“We have some of that money, but we’re hoping to raise an additional $80,000 over the next two years for all of our repairs/additions,” Kennedy said, noting that the park is also home to the Wilmington Soccer Area League, which has more than 250 children register annually for the spring and fall leagues.

People can continue to donate to the park by sending tax-deductible checks to Wilmington Township, c/o Marti Park Foundation, 669 Wilson Mill Road, New Castle, PA 16105, or by logging on to www.comm-foundation.org and scroll to the orange “Donate Now” button and type Marti Park Foundation when prompted.

“She’s amazing,” Carlo commented of Debbie’s efforts. “His dedication to this park is so incredible.”

In addition to using the playground, Carlo enjoys the walking path with his daughter.

The trail surface is compact enough that she can easily push Gabby’s wheelchair up it, which she finds a refreshing change.

“Gabby and I used the trail a lot this summer,” she said, adding that she was grateful for the ease of handicapped accessible parking and access walkways in the lot.

“I can easily park the car, get it out, and hit the trail,” Carlo said. “Usually when we go somewhere we have to think ahead whether it’s gravel or whether we can push a wheelchair. People don’t always think like a disabled person.

“But I have to say Debbie has thought of everything,” she said. “She’s so dedicated to this project.”

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