The playground floor is soft and seamless, easily navigable for all ages and abilities. There are no loose materials on the ground, like mulch or wood chips. The area is cool and well-shaded with plenty of space to sit, including secluded spots away from the action and noise of the playground. The equipment is marked with signage that caters to sensory impairments. The pathways, slides and swings are wide enough to accommodate children, adults and wheelchair users. Soft music plays from an interactive audio feature.
Magical Bridge Foundation playgrounds are not your average playground. The nonprofit’s mission, though, is that their playgrounds should be the norm—that everyone should have access to “the magic of play, community connections and belonging.”
When MFF senior advisors Hillary and John Morgridge first visited a Magical Bridge playground in the San Francisco Bay Area last year, the experience stuck with them.
“John and I were so excited by the idea of a playground that is a truly inclusive, intergenerational community hub,” said Hillary Morgridge. “A place that allows people of all ability levels to play together and learn from each other.”
The Morgridges are not alone in their desire for more inclusive spaces that the public can enjoy. According to a recent poll conducted by the National Recreation and Park Association, nearly 90 percent of Americans say communities should offer inclusive playground equipment that accommodates a wide range of abilities. Today, inclusion doesn’t just mean wheelchair-accessible—it means accommodating for neurodiversity, like people with autism and Down Syndrome, as well as grandparents with limited mobility and people of all ages who experience sensory processing disorders.
“At Magical Bridge, inclusion means everyone,” said Olenka Villarreal, Magical Bridge’s founder and CEO.
After their impactful initial visit, Hillary and John Morgridge wanted to help bring inclusive playgrounds to more communities, starting in MFF’s hometown of Denver. They provided a $80,000 planning grant so Magical Bridge could explore coming to metro Denver.
In June, they returned to San Francisco with Mallory Roybal, a parks district planner for the City and County of Denver, to evaluate opportunities and challenges related to bringing Magical Bridge’s inclusive playgrounds to Denver. Roybal was just as impressed as the Morgridges by what she saw.
“When I first visited the Magical Bridge playgrounds and learned about the various programming efforts specific to each location, I was inspired by the positive impact these playgrounds had on each community,” she said. “The playgrounds were laid out into inviting spaces for play and social interaction. The spaces were clean, safe, fun, and inclusive.”
She was excited by the potential the playgrounds represented, explaining that the visit fundamentally changed the way she thought about playgrounds and play spaces. She was optimistic about opportunities to bring Magical Bridge to Denver, because it aligns so clearly with Denver Parks’ policy of understanding community needs and implementing national best practices. The parks department has recently added inclusive play features, or has ongoing projects to do so, at Paco Sanchez, Robinson Park, City Park, Central Park, City of Potenza Park, the new Park at 47th & Walden, and Cook Park. But there is still a lot of room to improve inclusivity in parks across the city.
Roybal was optimistic about the potential for bringing Magical Bridge playgrounds to Denver, though she noted that barriers–which aren’t unique to inclusive playgrounds–include cost and maintenance.
“The Magical Bridge playgrounds are inspiring,” said Roybal. “I see an opportunity for Denver to improve on its play spaces and create new playgrounds to ensure they are inviting and navigable by users of all ages and abilities.”
Learn more about Magical Bridge and explore their playgrounds on their website. And stay tuned for future updates about new locations in Denver.