By Ali Lucia

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Sand, wood chips and mulch are all popular playing surfaces at playgrounds across the state. However, some argue that those surfaces don’t necessarily make it easy to push strollers or even wheelchairs around.

Wabun Picnic Area next to Minnehaha Falls opened in August 2014. It was the first inclusive park in Minneapolis park system. From the colors to the playing surface, this playground is designed to make kids of all ability levels smile.

Summer is a busy time for all families, especially kids like Lucas Dean.

Born with spina bifida, Lucas has never had the use of his legs. According to the Spina Bifida Association, it’s the most common permanently disabling birth defect in the United States, but that hasn’t slowed Lucas down.

“He loves to be active. He plays baseball, he does swimming lessons, goes to camp,” his dad Jay Dean said.

Jay said the playground at Wabun Park near Minnehaha Falls is one of the few places Lucas can play all on his own.

“Everything on the playground is fully accessible to every individual regardless of their ability level. Even a child like Lucas who uses a wheelchair, he can get to everything on this playground,” John McConkey, at Landscape Structures, said.

From a classic car to a simple cabin feel and even tents to climb to play hide and seek, Lucas and other kids like him really do have free reign of everything.

“That excavator, he’s never been able to use one of those, because he’s never been able to get his wheelchair up to it,” Jay said.

Even color choices were carefully considered.

“Sometimes bright colors and high contrasting colors can be a little unsettling for them,” McConkey said. “Muted colors, things that use earth tones or more natural colors, have a tendency to be calming or soothing.”

He is hopeful this look and feel will become the norm for next generation’s parents when they are looking for a place for their kids to play.

According to the rules and guidelines for playgrounds like Wabun, concrete, asphalt or other hard surfaces should never be directly under playground equipment and grass and dirtare not considered protective surfacing.

Builders can use engineered wood fiber, pea gravel, sand, shredded rubber mulch, wood mulch or wood chips.

There are five playgrounds like the Wabun Picnic Area scheduled to be installed between now and spring 2016 in Minneapolis, Woodbury, Cottage Gove, New Ulm and Hutchinson.

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