By Marci Narum

Two-and-a-half years after opening to the community, Mandan’s Universal Playground is already showing some wear and tear, evidence of how popular it is and how much it’s needed.

“It was a surprise to know how many people had been driving to Minot to use the playground there,” says Cole Higlin, Mandan Parks and Recreation Director.

Cole says since it opened in September 2015, the Universal Playground in Mandan has become the region’s go-to park. There are similar parks in the state with universal playground equipment but Mandan’s is the only playground with a fully poured-in-place, multi-colored, rubberized foundation, making mobility from one play structure to another easier. Cole says it provides opportunities for fun and activity to individuals with mobility issues and other special needs.

“This park has really set the standard for the Bismarck-Mandan area and also as a state. During the design and planning process we worked with a lot of special needs organizations. The Morton County Special Education Department was involved to help us know what type of disabilities were throughout the area to make sure we weren’t missing needs.”

The Universal Playground was developed for people who have physical limitations including visual and hearing impairments, anxiety issues, and sensory processing disorders.

“Some kids can’t handle the static going down a slide, so we put in a stainless steel slide so there wasn’t any static when they went down,” he explains.

Cole says the response to the Universal Playground has been universal popularity. And he has enjoyed some pleasant surprises.

“What really surprised us is all the teenagers and young adults from 18 to 25 that have never gone to a playground to enjoy it. There are a lot of kids with disabilities that never had the opportunity to go to a park of this magnitude and play and have fun and participate. When you’re building a playground you’re thinking it’s basically for 12 and under. But HIT and Pride have been utilizing it during the day.”

Cole says the city’s other neighborhood parks and facilities are getting attention too. All are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the park district is still making improvements.

“We’re trying to get into some of the older areas that don’t have a sidewalk leading up to them and switch out sand into the wood fibers. We want to make our regional parks accessible for people of all abilities.”