by Dennis Dalman
Children giggled, shouted for joy, went round and round and jumped up and down when Lions Community Park’s Inclusive Playground officially opened on Sept. 10.
The colorful playground was designed for all children, including those with physical challenges. It is one of the few inclusive playgrounds in the state. Three local Lions clubs (Sartell, LeSauk Township, St. Stephen) made the playground project possible by raising $340,000, including a $100,000 grant from Lions International. Others who supported and/or contributed to the project were other area Lions clubs, the City of Sartell, the Sartell-St. Stephen school district and the Lions International Foundation.
The Sept. 10 grand opening ceremony began with the a march of the Color Guard of the Sartell Troop 211 Boy Scouts.
Speakers included Sartell Lions Club President Stu Giffin, who was co-coordinator of the inclusive-park project (along with fellow Lions member Jim Muellenbach); Matt Lingle of the LeSauk Lions Club, who explained the “why” of the new playground; and Linda Janssen of the St. Stephen Lions Club, who outlined “how” the playground came to be.
Among the guests were Sartell City Council member Alex Lewandowski and Frank Leidenfrost of Staples, a Lions member and grant coordinator for Minnesota Lions District 5M-8. Leidenfrost presented Stu Giffin with the Lions’ Melvin Jones Award for Exceptional Humanitarian Service, thus honoring his work to make the inclusive playground possible.
The new playground was built on the site of a previous playground that was non-inclusive. It features 6,000 square feet of rubberized surface. Ramps and decks permit all kids to play together. There are interactive musical panels, a spring rider, a we-go-round, a merry-go-round, an oodle swing and double zip lines.
To open the playground, at the close of the ceremony, a long blue ribbon was cut by Zach Dingmann, principal of Riverview Intermediate School, city-council member Alex Lewandowski and a very special guest, 10-year-old Daniel Hansen, son of Cari and Bret Hansen of Sartell. Hansen’s mother gave input for designing the park because Daniel is physically challenged and had long wanted to be able to play on an inclusive playground.
Daniel’s wish has now come true.