But that situation could change. The nonprofit group Friends of the Palo Alto Parks wants to build a playground in Mitchell Park that all children and adults can use, whether or not they have a disability.
The park would offer bucket swing seats, spongy padded surfaces, ramps leading to and from equipment, a castle play house and a small stage, according to preliminary plans.
More than 1,400 Palo Alto children have disabilities or have parents who use wheelchairs, according to Olenka Villarreal, vice president of the Friends' board and mother of Ava.
"We have dog parks, but we don't have a park for residents with some disability," she said.
Two years ago, Villarreal proposed the idea for Magical Bridge, the universally accessible playground, to Friends director Roger Smith.
She came up with the idea after finding the parks inaccessible to her daughter, she said. Swinging is an important therapy for Ava's development, but Villarreal has to drive Ava to Cupertino to swing for 45-minutes each week — for $85 a session, she said.
Ava also hits her head on play structures built for so-called regular kids. Age-appropriate play equipment doesn't take into consideration the 6-year-old child with a 2-year-old's development, Villarreal said.
Liz Bell has two special-needs children, ages 6 and 19. The family has found Palo Alto parks "extremely limiting," she said.
"This new park would open an entire world to my children that is currently out of reach for them. ... My daughter could be on the play structure ... and explore all the different areas for herself and interact with other children.
"It is not just the ability to play in the park that would be great, but the incredible social avenues it would open for them to play with special-needs and typical peers," she said.
Designing, funding and building the park would follow a similar grass-roots effort made to develop Heritage Park on Channing Avenue and downtown's Lytton Plaza, Smith said.
Magical Bridge proponents took the idea to the city's Parks and Recreation Commission July 22, 2008, asking if the playground would be an appropriate use within the city's Park Master Plan. Commissioners agreed but wanted the concept fleshed out, said Greg Betts, the City of Palo Alto's director of community services.
The Friends returned with a sketch of the size and location on April 28. In June, commissioners reviewed a draft site plan, which was developed by Ross Recreation, a park-development firm that worked on Heritage Park and the Pine Grove area in Mitchell Park, he said.
Betts said an 18,000-square-foot unused area near the access bridge and tennis courts could be allocated for the playground. The area is adjacent to Abilities United and AchieveKids, two nonprofits serving persons with disabilities, and Stevenson House senior housing.
The Friends must raise $500,000, or half of the nearly $1 million needed to build the park for the city to take the project seriously, Villarreal said.
Betts said in similar projects, the city provided engineering services and waived permit fees. But the Friends would pay for all equipment and installation. The project would go through all of the usual public hearings and city approval processes, he added.
Heritage Park took 18 months to develop, he said.
"We should've thought about it a long time ago," said Sunny Dykwel, a parks and recreation commissioner. But "my only reservation is adequate parking," noting it could be eased by possible joint use of the Stevenson House parking lot.
Lynda Steele, executive director of Abilities United, said although her nonprofit has a playground behind its preschool for clients, it is appropriate only for children 2 to 5 years old.
"It's separate from the community. We want people side by side with people without disabilities so they are playing and running together.
"Some people in this economic climate might not see this as a high priority. But everyone has to be able to recreate and play in an accessible place. For us and the people we serve, it's a very high priority," she said.
A wine tasting and sale of boutique wines will be held to raise funds during the holidays, Villarreal said.
A playhouse by designer Barbara Butler will be on display in mid-November at the Palo Alto Children's Library, to be raffled off Dec. 15. Tickets, $20, will be available through Palo Alto High School's YES students or through the Friends.
Information about Magical Bridge playground will be available on a new website in the coming weeks at www.magicalbridge.org and on the Friends' website at www.friendsofpaparks.org.
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