If the weather starts to cooperate, organizers say the first phase of a nearly $2.5 million sensory playground and garden project in Wheaton will be complete and ready for visitors in just a few months.
Sarah O'Donnell, director of development for Wheaton Park District, said workers broke ground on the "universally accessible and cutting edge" Play For All Playground last fall, but the cold winter and wet spring and summer inhibited construction.
"It's a bit damp," said Kiwanis member Cindy Keck, who proposed the playground idea to the park district several years ago. "We have all the equipment; everything is ready to be installed. It's just it hasn't dried out enough yet."
Still, Keck said, project leaders have "every intention" of completing the first phase this construction season and hope to have a ribbon cutting in the fall.
The project is being built on about 40 acres owned by the DuPage County Forest Preserve District in Danada South Park, near Naperville and Warrenville roads in Wheaton.
It is being spearheaded by multiple groups, including the park district, the forest preserve, Kiwanis Club of Wheaton, Western DuPage Special Recreation Association and ACTServices.
O'Donnell said the project's purpose is to provide all children and adults access to recreation.
While many of the features were designed with children with autism in mind, anyone can enjoy the area.
"It's a place for everyone," O'Donnell said. "That's kind of our slogan."
Many of the project's features will have the ability to stimulate and engage senses.
For example, an accessible tree house that's set to be installed in a later phase is "a great way for a kid who is very shy or intimidated or unsure about coming into the park to get a bird's-eye view of what's going on," O'Donnell said.
There also will be amenities adults with developmental or physical disabilities can enjoy.
"Maybe mom or dad is in a wheelchair," O'Donnell said. "They would have the opportunity to engage with their children in a friendly environment."
This summer, work is continuing on phase one of the project, which totals about $380,000.
It includes a central gathering area with benches and shade structures, an interactive art installation, a fragrance garden with various herbs and vegetables, a sound garden with outdoor musical instruments, and a playground for 2- to 5-year-olds with a pony stables theme.
Keck, who works with children who have developmental delays, said she realized there was a need because disabled children's families were choosing to stay at home instead of going out in public for recreation.
"I wanted to help provide them with a place where the families could have fun together and where the kids would feel comfortable," she said. "This park is specially designed for people who have sensory difficulties."
While other sensory playgrounds and sensory gardens exist in the suburbs -- as do many playgrounds that are handicap accessible -- there isn't anything quite like what the Play For All sensory playground garden will offer, Keck said.
"There are thousands of families in DuPage County that would benefit from the sensory garden, and beyond DuPage County the number is huge," O'Donnell said. "It's a really nice sanctuary for anyone to escape into nature, but close enough to public transportation."
O'Donnell said there was significant community support, which resulted in phase one being fully funded.
Fundraising efforts are now in full-force for the next step in the four-phase project. Phase two, which includes a playground for children ages 5 through 12, will cost about $376,000.
O'Donnell said about $60,000 already has been raised from two grants and from private and public donors.
Later phases include an adventure area with climbing rocks and ropes, a water play area, the accessible tree house and a baseball field.
O'Donnell noted that if a donor is interested in providing funding for later phases, they can be completed before earlier phases are constructed.
Organizers are urging clubs and organizations to get involved, either through the volunteer removal of invasive plants on the property or through fundraising events.
"We genuinely appreciate every effort," O'Donnell said.
For information, visit wheatonparkdistrict.com.