MOORHEAD — Two unique regional destination parks that would cater to the needs of children are moving forward in Moorhead.

To make it more interesting, both are being designed with a healthy dose of input from the kids themselves.

One is an estimated $1 million inclusive playground to be built at Southside Regional Park. It will be open to all children, but aimed at providing a place for those with disabilities to enjoy all of the equipment. For example, it will have swings for wheelchair users and horizontal conveyor belt slides with a smooth rubberized surface underneath it all.

The other is a $700,000 four-season natural playground at Riverfront Park in Moorhead's downtown area. Planners hope the park, which is in a natural setting along the banks of the Red River with some of the few hills in the metro area, will be inspirational to children.

This playground will use nature's boulders, trees, shrubs, logs, rocks and water to provide such amenities as a tree house, bicycle skills park, a miniature zipline and a toboggan and sledding hill in the winter. Detroit Mountain Natural Play Area is a similar park in Detroit Lakes, Minn., though Moorhead's version would be larger.

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The parks are being planned from the ground up with volunteers doing most of the work. Funding is the hold-up currently, although there are hopes that the parks can still be constructed next year.

A place for everyone

The inclusive park has raised $120,000 so far, according to marketing volunteer Jen Troska, who has an autistic son she hopes will be able to enjoy the facility. It is planned to be in the park next to the soccer complex and Miracle Field where families play wheelchair baseball and softball.

Troska said they hope to raise about $500,000, which will enable them to apply for grants to assist with fundraising. She said there are hopes the city could provide a boost in its budget as well.

In a kickoff for the park, volunteers who include parents and teachers are planning a picnic from 4 to 8 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 9 in Gooseberry Park as part of Moorhead Days. Troska said the COVID-19 pandemic put the project on hold last year.

The group has also set up a way to recognize contributors both large and small, ranging from recognition plaques in the park to placing a personalized fence picket for $100.

In explaining the need for the park in a brochure, Hope Inc. executive director Adair Grommesh wrote, "Our existing playgrounds are not easily accessible for families who have kids with mobility challenges. They contain barriers such as wood chips or rocks rather than a flat terrain for kids to wheel and play with their siblings and friends."

Troska said specific equipment for the inclusive playground will also be chosen by children. The $1 million cost is broken down to $375,000 for equipment, $225,000 for the rubberized surface with a concrete base, $325,000 for accessible parking and sidewalks and $75,000 for benches, trees and signage.

Moorhead city officials recently listed the inclusive playground among potential projects that might someday benefit from a sales tax if state officials allow the city to put a sales tax measure on the ballot and if Moorhead residents approve it.

'A really inspirational place'

The natural playground is being helped by a committee of about 22 and headed by project manager Heather Ranck from the F-M Rotary Foundation, which represents Rotary Clubs in the metro area.

So far, about $100,000 has been raised, but the group is also boosting efforts to reach its goal. They had a booth at the Downtown Fargo Street Fair explaining what the park is all about.

Ranck explains organizers want it to be more than just a "cool place," as the goal is to provide young people with an inspirational site that can "give kids the feeling of the endless possibilities in the beautiful setting by the river and the hills."

Here is part of the natural playground setup at Detroit Mountain near Detroit Lakes.  Submitted photo
Here is part of the natural playground setup at Detroit Mountain near Detroit Lakes. Submitted photo

She believes there's a need for such as place amidst a growing concern about mental health among children during the pandemic, with some feeling isolated, anxious and depressed after being cooped up.

Ranck said they picked the Riverfront Park because it's easily accessible by foot, bike or bus to children throughout the metro area with its downtown location. "We want it to be accessible and inclusive," she said.

A design firm called Confluence has been hired to help design the park and focus groups comprised of children to help in the design are part of the plan.

Organizers of the proposed natural playground are hoping the park-within-a park pairing will become a regional draw and an outdoor inspiration for children and adults alike.

This is a view of one of the attractions at the Detroit Mountain Natural Playground and Bike Skills Park near Detroit Lakes, Minn.  A simillar park on a larger scale is planned by Rotary Clubs for downtown Moorhead
This is a view of one of the attractions at the Detroit Mountain Natural Playground and Bike Skills Park near Detroit Lakes, Minn. A simillar park on a larger scale is planned by Rotary Clubs for downtown Moorhead

Ranck said among the features proposed for the site are things like logs, boulders and a bicycle skill area, which will be set in a landscape dominated by grass and trees, rather than various forms of pavement.

"A lot of kids don't get near as much time outdoors as previous generations did," Ranck said, adding that there is growing evidence of numerous health and developmental benefits tied to getting outside.

"We're trying to create a really inspirational place that will be fun for kids and parents," Ranck said. "Something different, something that inspires a sense of adventure with the location."

The playground is still in the design stage. Once features have been settled on, organizers will have a better idea of a budget and how much money will need to be raised. Donations toward the effort may be made online at the F-M Rotary Foundation website, fmrotaryfoundation.org/page/natural-playground.

Ranck noted that Rotary clubs have been instrumental in setting up a number of other playgrounds in the metro area, including an inclusive playground in Lindenwood Park in Fargo.