Rooney Robison had trouble getting up from a spinner bowl Saturday at Mecklenburg County’s newest playground, her knees wobbly as she searched for balance.
That didn’t stop her from trying out “the ski machine” – an outdoor cardio exercise machine – at a ribbon-cutting for the county’s first Multigenerational Play Park and one of the few in the country.
“I think this is very far-reaching, very front-and-center,” said Robison, a grandmother of six “older” grandchildren. “You can bet I’ll get them out here to see this. This is a great thing – grandparents and parents bringing kids here and getting some exercise while the children are playing.”
The playground was built at Marion Diehl Park on Tyvola Road, a partnership between Mecklenburg’s park and recreation department and the nonprofit Southminster retirement community.
Southminster covered the nearly $200,000 bill for the innovative playground that originated in Europe. It consists of children’s playground equipment by Kompan Playgrounds, including an electronic game for the video-game generation that forces children to climb and react to flashing lights and a giant rope-climb with several levels that challenge a child’s self-confidence.
For the older users, the playground offers a set of outdoor cardio and resistance machines by The Great Outdoor Gym Company of England. It is built with a walking track on a cushiony rubberized surface for rickety knees and children who fall.
The county donated the land, helped with the installation and will maintain the Play Park.
The whole theory is that you just don’t bring your child to the playground and sit on the bench.
Jim Garges, director of Mecklenburg Park and Recreation
Tracy McGinnis, Southminster’s philanthropy director, said the nonprofit was looking for a way to contribute to the county. At a conference, she began hearing about playgrounds in Europe where doctors send patients to help with their rehabilitation.
“Instead of building a space that was just for one age group, we thought we’d create a space that had many benefits for all,” McGinnis said.
She said Southminster is looking at building more.
Jim Garges, director of park and recreation, called the park a great concept that keeps everybody moving. “The whole theory is that you just don’t bring your child to the playground and sit on the bench,” Garges said. He said “fit zones” with the fitness equipment are being installed throughout the county, particularly in “challenged neighborhoods.”
“A lot of adults and children don’t have an opportunity to go to a gym,” he said. “So this outdoor recreation equipment is accessible to all.”