Necessity, dream and celebration: All-inclusive park opens

Check out Snoqualmie’s all-inclusive Centennial Park playground.

By Kathy Lambert

For the Valley Record

On April 26, the formal ribbon cutting of Snoqualmie’s all-inclusive Centennial Park playground was held.

As you can see from the sky in the photos, heavy rain drops decided to join in. But that did not stop the celebration or the children of all ages enjoying their new and amazing play equipment.

The long history of this project makes it even more magical. It started as a necessity, which inspired a phone call that led to many more calls and many meetings that were held each Tuesday.

Chelsea Johnson is the mother of a child with special needs. She had an experience at a Bellevue spray park where her 2-year-old son ran out of the playground into the parking lot, where he would not have been easily seen if not for her watchful eye. So she decided that there needed to be a playground with a fence and equipment for children with a variety of needs. She called the city of Snoqualmie and talked to then-parks director Larry White. Chelsea said she was nervous when she called, as she really did not know the process of getting a park to match her desires. She told him how an ADA (American with Disabilities Act) approved park differed from an all-inclusive park.

Larry was willing to learn more about her ideas and started on a long journey that covered about 14 years to make this come to reality. Larry became a huge and devoted advocate for her idea.

Larry spoke with then-Mayor Matt Larson who really liked the idea, but the price was very high. Larson said it was so important and unique that it should be a regional issue as the city alone would not have the needed funds. So he called Sen. Mark Mullet at the state, and me at the county, to ask if we would be able to allocate seed money for the project.

Both state and county money were allocated. Other money came in too as Larry decided to do his 60th birthday party as a “GoFundMe” type event and raised about another $20,000. Then they applied for grants and received a state Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) grant of $550,000. Later, the state and county were able to provide more funds with recent grants to complete the project.

This park has many special and wonderful aspects to it. There is a swing for people in a wheelchair. There is a merry go round that is level with the ground so a wheelchair can access it. There are also seats inside. During the celebration, there were children and a mom and grandma all enjoying the merry go round together. There are many sensory items and a plant garden for using many senses to enjoy the plants — including touch. There is soft turf (safer than bark) and handrails and musical aspects and more. You will just have to discover all these aspects and more when you visit.

Mayor Katherine Ross gave opening remarks on how many people had worked on this project over the years and thanked them for their dedication. After her remarks, the sky opened up and rain poured down heavily. The staff had put up a tent covering in case rain came, which was great insight as it was necessary. I was able to comment on how exciting it is to see this vision come to reality. Then the ribbon was cut!

Mayor Ross said that the park has already been well received. It had a “soft opening” and then was closed again for some final touches, and lots of people were waiting eagerly. They also had about 750 come to an Easter egg hunt.

In interviewing Chelsea after the event, she said she started out as a “crazy mom” that did not know the process. Matt Larson said that was the process — to bring the idea to us to follow through. Larry and Matt and I assured her that we all found her passion — and willingness to share her vision in all that this could be — was impressive and we thought she was more an “advocate mom.” She said that she made many good friendships during this process as people learned together in the design and production. She said she did not just do this for her child, but for a legacy for all the other children.

This park is one of a kind in the region and there is already another city that is interested in what the all-inclusive park has to offer for all needs and ages.

It was a necessity, then a dream and now something to celebrate. I hope that this park brings joy for many generations.

Kathy Lambert is a former member of the King County Council who represented the Snoqualmie Valley area.

Equipment at the all-inclusive Centennial Park playground, located at 39903 SE Park Street, adjacent to Meadowbrook Farm. Photos courtesy of Kathy Lambert

Equipment at the all-inclusive Centennial Park playground, located at 39903 SE Park Street, adjacent to Meadowbrook Farm. Photos courtesy of Kathy Lambert