Featured Accessible Playground: Toms River Field of Dreams Sports Complex
Having an idea is one thing, but putting together a plan and executing the steps to turn that idea into reality is something completely different. What started as just two parents looking for an inclusive recreation space for their son, Gavin, has now turned into a family’s commitment to children and adults with disabilities and an incredible, all-in-one sports and play complex.
Let’s talk about what it took to go from design to build for Toms River Field of Dreams and how you can apply some of it to your project. But first, let’s take a moment to appreciate the uniqueness of this complex. The Toms River Field of Dreams park is the only inclusive, accessible complex of its kind in the U.S., making it remarkably trailblazing. To truly understand this project’s scale and impact, we invite you to take a video tour of the Toms River Field of Dreams complex.
Now, keep reading to learn more about this unique, welcoming place.
We believe that this design came together in a unique and special way, in a place of passion and commitment for the people who would be using the park and playground. Rather than being designed by a landscape architect, it came from two parents — Christian and Mary Kane — who dreamed of a safe and exciting space for their son that was not isolating like some of the other playgrounds or areas they experienced in the past. This was both exciting but also nerve-wracking because such an important mission needed to succeed.
“When the Kane family first came to MRC with their idea, the complex started out as just a Challenger Baseball Field, but it turned into a big sports complex pretty quickly.”
- Matt Miller, Director of Marketing for MRC
It’s important that during the design you ask questions such as:
One essential aspect that came up during this stage of the process was what current parks did not have that prevented people like Gavin from playing. The Toms River Field of Dreams design actually started with a completely unique, custom space-themed mound that was accessible by two ramps as well as several other routes of travel and from there, we added on to the 3.1-acre complex, making it what it is today: a place where kids and adults can have fun and families and caretakers can watch their loved ones do something that was not available or possible to them before Toms River Field of Dreams.
“Since Gavin loved trampolines, we explored ways to incorporate an inclusive trampoline into the large mound portion of the playground. We were even able to design the park and playground to include some space-themed items which he also loves.”
- Matt Miller, Director of Marketing for MRC.
Covering three acres of Bey Lea Park, everything from the inclusive playground to the baseball and bocce courts at Toms River Field of Dreams is wheelchair accessible.
The playground’s core feature (mentioned above) is a large customized glass fiber-reinforced concrete (GFRC) mound. It is a unique piece that has two accessible routes of travel to get to the top. Once you’re at the top, there is an accessible circular trampoline that allows even mobility devices to use the “moon bounce.” Children of all abilities then have options for several slides to come back down to the poured-in-place rubber safety surfacing beneath.
Additionally, the playground features many types of swings for all ability levels, including an Expression Swing where a parent or guardian can swing right along with their child while facing one another. Musical instrument components, sensory play panels, and an inclusive zip track are also spread throughout the playground.
Finally, the Yalp Sona Dance and Play Arch is at the center of the playground. It’s an interactive and inclusive component that has several games integrated to target a multigenerational audience. Dancing and singing are inherently inclusive activities!
Aside from the playground, park-goers can enjoy the baseball field, outdoor fitness equipment, several shade structures and trellises, a snack shack, accessible bathroom facilities and changing areas, entrance archways and much more.
Aside from the playground, park-goers can enjoy:
Everyone deserves equal access to equal play. Why? According to Harvard Health, playing outside helps all children develop skills they can use throughout their entire life, including everything from how to plan to how to negotiate and multitask.
Additionally, it’s recommended that children have at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. But to do this, kids need a place where they can play, regardless of their age or ability. An inclusive playground gives all children the same platform to play on while breaking down barriers, both physically and socially. A groundbreaking aspect of Toms River Fields of Dreams is that anyone visiting can access everything in the park. There is no set zone for “special features” or need to keep accessible equipment separate from more traditional playground pieces. It’s all together in one space, so everyone, no matter what, feels included in the fun.
“Once we heard about this project, spoke with Christian and Mary, and learned about their family’s story, we knew we needed to be a part of their project,” Miller says. “Our hope is that communities around the country look to Toms River Field of Dreams as a blueprint for integrating accessible parks and play spaces.”