by Dennis Dalman
The inclusive children’s playground in the heart of Sartell, now open for play, was officially recognized with a public ceremony Sept. 10.
The just-completed playground, installed by city workers, is a joint project made possible by the Lions clubs of Sartell, St. Stephen and LeSauk Township. They began raising funds last year and succeeded in raising $340,000, including a $100,000 grant from Lions International.
The project was warmly endorsed by the City of Sartell, the Sartell-St. Stephen School District and many other organizations in the area, such as the St. Joseph Lions Club and generous contributors.
Located in Sartell Lions Community Park, right across from city hall, the brightly colored inclusive playground was designed and constructed so that all children can use it, including those with physical or mental challenges. The 6,000 square-foot playground equipment includes two zip lines, a merry-go-round, a swing set with multiple swings, a spring rider. The surface of the park is rubberized, making it accessible and safe for children (and adults) using walkers, wheelchairs, toddlers just beginning to crawl and children who run, jump and skip.
It is one of the few inclusive playgrounds in Minnesota and the only one in central Minnesota.
Lions Community Park was started by the Sartell Lions Club, spearheaded by member Mike Deluca, about 25 years ago as a handicapped-accessible park with handrail walking trails through its wooded area and benches all along the route. Other features include flower gardens, picnic tables and a gazebo. The northern side of the park has often been used for special events, such as concerts.
The new playground equipment and rubberized surfacing replaces the previous playground area, which was not all-inclusive – thus lacking accessibility for all children.
The all-inclusive playground project’s co-chairs are Stu Giffin and Jim Muellenbach, both members of the Sartell Lions Club.
In October 2022, the Sartell City Council voted to support the inclusive-park project, which also has strong backing by the Sartell-St. Stephen school district and other regional groups and individuals. The City of Sartell will provide some funding for the playground, as well as its installation and maintenance by public-works employees.
Lions International is the world’s largest service organization whose mission is to improve the health and well-being of people by strengthening their communities and supporting those in need. For many decades and to this day, the organization is widely known for helping the visually impaired and those with other challenges.
According to Lions Club member Stu Giffin, there are an estimated 200 children living in Sartell who are special-needs children and many more in nearby cities and rural areas.