The newly remodeled Maplewood Park was officially opened in April, with people of all ages taking to the colorful playground and large picnic shelters. Erin Fons, Communications and Event Specialist, and Josh Mathern, Park Operations Manager, from the West Fargo Park District sat down with me to discuss the project of making Maplewood a unique and inclusive park for the entire community.
One of the new features of the playground is a Merry Go Round with seats wide enough for wheelchairs, a fan favorite of the park.
Communications and Events Specialist for the WFPD is excited to host upcoming events because the remodeled park will allow for more events and more people.
WFPD’s Park Operations Manager, Josh Mathern, helped to get the remodel and renovations of Maplewood Park up and running, saying that improvements were necessary.
Known for its sledding hill, the features of the playground and park area of one of West Fargo’s oldest parks had not changed since first being built in the late 1990s. However, to the park district, an upgrade was necessary for Maplewood Park on 17th Ave.
“Regardless of what we put there the goal was to make improvements,” Mathern said. “Rather than just replacing sidewalks or broken swings, we said to go up a level.”
These next-level improvements are making it possible for people of all ages and all levels of cognitive and physical abilities to enjoy a day at the park. The WFPD was more than happy to make certain changes to one of their oldest parks, saying inclusivity features were something that their other parks were lacking. Maplewood became one of the first inclusive parks in the Midwest.
“In this day and age inclusivity is just the right thing to do,” Fons said. “A kid, regardless of their cognitive or physical abilities, should be able to play with their friends.”
Making a park inclusive means more than just sticking a sign in the ground saying, “all are welcome.” In addition to the improved skating rink, added pickleball and basketball courts, new lighting, improved parking lot spaces and walking paths around the park, new bathroom facilities with inclusive changing table stations and a custom playground built for all ages and abilities.
As a part of improving accessibility for all park goers, ramps and walkways were made wider to accommodate those with mobility issues.
The brightly colored playground has ramps, a braille communication board, a sensory break area and more for younger children. A one-of-a-kind obstacle course inspired by Ninja Warrior courses was designed for 13-year-olds and up. But Maplewood isn’t just for the kids, it’s for people of all ages.
“This park has a lot of diversity, I see seniors working out [on the playground] and older teenagers playing with younger kids,” Fons said. “It makes this park multigenerational.”
Sky blue rubber padding with white accents in the shape of clouds, represents the sky acts as the flooring of the playground, making it easier for people with mobility challenges to navigate rather than wood chips, sand or gravel like other parks. The ramps leading onto the playground are wider as well as seats on the swings and other benches are larger to accommodate any equipment used by a parkgoer. There’s a “hiding hole” so children with sensory sensitivities can go and take a quiet break from any overstimulation on the playground. The WFPD district also collaborated with various professionals in the West Fargo School District to develop a communication board and to design the bathroom facilities with more space and special features. The communication board features braille of common phrases such as “I feel good!” so people with language barriers can communicate as well.
Upcoming community events with the West Fargo Park District
Tuesday, July 19 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Armour Park (2nd Ave NW & 5th St NW). Enjoy outdoor games, free art projects with help from Plains Art Museum staff members, live music, artisan pizza from Blackbird Woodfire for purchase and more. Admission is free.
Rec On The Go – Pool Party:
Thursday, July 21, 4:30 – 7:00 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Pool/Herb Tintes Park (131 6th Ave E), admission is free and concessions will be available to purchase. Enjoy swimming, lawn games, t-shirt tie-dying, live music from local musicians and more.
FMCT Presents Maleficent:
Friday, July 29, 5:30 p.m. with location TBA. WFPD’s theater program and the Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre is excited to present the classic story of Disney’s Maleficent. Tickets are not required, but a free will donation is appreciated.
“We wanted to make sure that not only was the playground accessible, but the whole site in general,” Mathern said. “The rubber surfacing wasn’t necessary but definitely an improvement beyond other options we had, as well as the wider sidewalks to make things more easily visible all across the park so a parent can sit on a bench and still see their kid across the playground.”
The playground designers, Dakota Playground, specialize in inclusive park features so the WFPD worked closely with them in order to provide the best possible aspects of the playground with custom-built structures. They also worked with MBN Engineering who helped develop the architecture plans for the park area surrounding the playground.
Fons commented on the fact that not all kids who go to a park want to play sports on the various courts and fields that most parks feature. Something that the WFPD has made an effort of is including various reading, music, craft and other features on the playground, not just sports.
“We cater to all interests, things that will keep all kids engaged,” Fons said.
People of all ages, and cognitive and physical abilities, are loving the new playground plus all the updated spaces and facilities of Maplewood Park – proving it’s a park for everyone.
The project, funded in part by the Garrison Diversion Conservancy Grant and the rest from the park district’s budget, broke ground in May of 2021. Construction lasted through the summer and fall with the ribbon cutting on April 28 and the official opening of the park on April 30. The community has been in love with this park since then.
“The parking lots are always packed whenever I drive by it,” Fons said. “I get to see all of our Facebook messages, the TikToks from all the TikTok moms and people who are traveling to the park. It’s definitely a destination park.”
Both Fons and Mathern have received nothing but positive feedback about the park, whether that be messages on social media, emails, or phone calls from community members expressing their gratitude for an inclusive and accessible park.
“It’s a unique feeling when someone calls you in tears saying how glad they are that their kids can finally all play together, regardless of their abilities,” Mathern said. “It’s fantastic.”
A visit to Maplewood Park may be in the near future for you and your family, with the promise of accessibility, inclusivity and fun for everyone.
1504 17th Ave E, West Fargo