The Eli’s Park Project: A Park For Everyone
Written by Ben Wiley
Imagine that you want to go play at your neighborhood park, but when you go there you feel excluded and find it inaccessible.
For too many children and adults in America, this statement hits home. Neighborhood parks that are supposed to be centers of the community and a place where people of all abilities, shapes, and sizes can exercise and play are not designed for inclusive play, thus fostering the spirit of exclusion rather than inclusion. For instance, the sprawling metropolis of Seattle features only one inclusive park out of 508 in the city.
Eli Reischl was a child with Down syndrome who tried to spread inclusion and positivity wherever he went in his limited lifespan. As a result, he inspired the idea to build an inclusive and accessible park that would carry on Eli’s legacy by fostering more inclusion in the community around him. Thus, The Eli’s Park Project was founded with the objective to work with the community to transform the Burke-Gilman Playground Park into a new park where people of all shapes and sizes would be able to play and have fun without fear of being judged or excluded.
Inspired by Eli, his mom and physical therapist started building community around the idea. Now, it has blossomed into a major community-led mission to build only the second inclusive park in Seattle. In addition, the Eli’s Park Project has acknowledged from the beginning the historical significance of the land that the accessible park will be built on. Front and center on their website is a message that highlights the fact that the Burke-Gilman Park sits on land that once belonged to the Duwamish people. Thus, the park will have signs that highlight the natural and indigenous history of this land.
Over the past few years, landscape architects from Site Workshop and other members of the team leading this unique project have dedicated their time to working with community members, local businesses, and Seattle Parks and Recreation to make this dream a reality. For instance, the park’s various features have been designed by, with, and for members of the diverse community. While this yet to be named park will have some features common in parks like a playground with swings and parallel pathways, it is also going to have some unique features that will set it apart.
It will feature sensory experiences throughout, including a sensory garden as well as unique art displays. The garden was one of the most requested features that community members asked for during the design process. It will have two parts, a berry-filled walk and a perennial garden. Thanks to the garden having pathways with accessible surfaces and space, all park visitors will be able to touch, taste, and smell the plants that are planted in the garden by custom planters. To make things even more exciting, visitors and community members will be able to do more than just look at the plants. Thanks to the Eli’s Park Project partnership with the Seattle Tilth Garden Hotline, community members will be able to learn how to and occasionally work to maintain this essential part of the park.
Ultimately, none of this success would have been possible if not for the endless support of all of you wonderful members of the community who have impacted this project in some way. For people who have supported this project since the beginning, keep helping as we are inching closer to the finish line. For any community members just finding out about this project, we welcome your support as well to help this park be the most inclusive.
Let’s build a park!!