By Conrad Dudderar
An inclusive Yukon playground – one of only two in Oklahoma when it was built by volunteers in the mid-1990s – is due a major upgrade that could exceed $1 million.
The City of Yukon has obtained a federal grant to help improve the Freedom Trail Playground, 2100 S Holly. A new splash pad water feature has been proposed as part of the project.
“We plan on having a local committee that will help design the new playground along with consultants,” said Claudia Krshka, the City of Yukon’s parks maintenance director and grant writer.
Hundreds of volunteers were used to build Freedom Trail Playground starting in March 1994. It was completed in September 1996. The cost was about $150,000.
Freedom Trail quickly became an award-winning, regional destination park for the City of Yukon. People from across the Oklahoma City metro and western Oklahoma come to play there.
Krshka, in a presentation at the Oct. 5th city council study session, explained the need to update Freedom Trail Playground and build a second Yukon splash pad.
“This park should be a place where Yukon citizens of all ages and abilities can play without barriers alongside one another,” Krshka said.
“They should not have to leave their hometown to find a playground that accommodates their needs. This playground was fantastic when it was built. But inclusivity has broadened in 25 years, and what is needed has broadened.”
An inclusive playground isn’t only for a child or adult with a visible, physical disability or mobility issue.
“It’s for everyone, regardless of limiting factors,” said Krshka, reading a list of impairments. “Some disabilities are apparent and can be seen. Some cannot.
“A playground should allow someone to celebrate their abilities, not be reminded of their disabilities – both physically and socially.”
Over the past 25 years, Freedom Trail Playground has deteriorated and now requires significant maintenance. Many pieces of broken equipment cannot be replaced or repaired.
“It’s a very well-loved playground,” Krshka said. “In a year’s time, there might be five days that it’s not used.”
Plans call for the new playground to be 132 feet by 152 feet with a “pour in place” or turf surface.
Yukon’s park maintenance director told council members the addition of a splash pad will bring thousands of more people to Yukon, increasing quality of life for residents and generating tax dollars.
The city’s first splash pad, opened in May 2014 on the east side of Yukon in Sunrise Park, is packed every day it’s open.
A state contract for a federal grant to help fund Freedom Trail upgrades will be considered at the Oct. 19th city council meeting.
In July 2019, the City of Yukon applied for a $400,000 Land & Water Conservation Fund Grant administered by the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department through the National Park Service.
The City of Yukon in February 2020 was notified of the grant award. But the project was stalled due to COVID-19.
“The existing playground was 23 years old when I wrote this grant; now it’s 25 years old,” Krshka said. “It was one of two inclusive playgrounds in the state (when it opened). Now it’s one of many, many inclusive playgrounds.
“It’s no longer the ‘latest and greatest’.”
The council previously approved the Freedom Trail project, having included $800,000 as a “grant fund match” line item for the past two years in the City of Yukon budget.
“We’ve allowed too many facilities in the city to fall behind in modernization,” Krshka added. “Receiving this grant is an opportunity for us to update one of our ‘crown jewels’.”
The cost of the new Freedom Trail Playground/splash pad has not been determined as equipment and material prices rise.
“We haven’t designed it to know what it’s going to take,” Krshka told the city council.
A similar-sized playground/splash pad project recently approved in Owasso will cost about $1.1 million.
The federal grant requires the project to be completed within two years. Construction is expected to take at least nine months.
Ward 4 City Council Member Aric Gilliland thanked Krshka for her hard work and update on the proposed Freedom Trail project.
Gilliland, a teacher and father of a special needs child, said he participated in fundraisers to build the playground in the mid-‘90s.