At the recent grand opening of the revamped Bellevue Downtown Park, the new play area is buzzing with happy voices and hopping energy. Kids and grown-ups explore the park’s new Inspiration Playground, a huge, colorful and adventure-filled play space that’s one of the parks major updates.
One of the largest and most interesting play spaces I’ve seen in our area, it’s closer to a theme park than your typical playground, packed with fun features and equipment. Designed by Colorado-based firm Design Concepts Landscape Architecture as a large-scale, multisensory play space to engage children of various abilities, the playground’s features also provide opportunities for bonding among friends, families and caretakers. Inspiration Playground spans 1.5 acres in the park’s southwest corner — and if the size sounds impressive, that’s only the beginning.
So many play features
Various climbing structures engage all ages and ability levels, among them a whimsical twisted vine climber and a bridge-connected “Roots and Rock” climbing wall. Swings of all sorts are plentiful: There are wheelchair-accessible saucer-style and adaptive swing seats as well as tot-and-parent swings. Even the sideline benches are suspended on swing chains, letting caregivers in on the fun. Bouncers and egg-chair-style spinners; a four-person, wheelchair-friendly see-saw; and a cool, ramp-accessible glider that makes for a gently swaying ride all delighted kids at the grand opening. Other engaging features include gigantic musical instruments, a slide built into the hillside and a fantastical twisted Wisdom Tree at the playground’s center.
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But wait, there’s more. A natural play area and splash zone are a blast with several water features, boulders and even a waterfall. For the younger crowd, there is a section that includes a cute giant-flower play structure, balance beam and other interactive toys. All of the equipment is designed to accommodate children not only with physical disabilities, but also with vision and hearing challenges. Inspiration Playground is designed to foster confidence, friendship and physical development – but for the kids, it’s simply summed up as "fun."
Inspiration for Inspiration Playground
One proponent of Inspiration Playground is our state’s Lieutenant Governor, Cyrus Habib, who’s been blind since the age of 8. While attending Somerset Elementary school in Bellevue years ago, Habib recalls being excluded from playing on the playground due to his disability — until his mother intervened.
At the grand opening, I heard this touching tale recounted in a letter from Habib (he was unable to attend the event in person). City officials, civic leaders and a crowd of thrilled kids and their parents have gathered to celebrate the culmination of a vision that has its roots in Habib’s experience all those years ago. A project that was conceived in 2012 by the Bellevue Rotary Club together with the City of Bellevue, the playground represents a dream years in the making, one that, in his letter, Habib calls “a physical example of how play, adventure and disability can coexist.”
“Inclusivity does not stop at accessible,” he wrote in his letter. “There are plenty of playgrounds throughout our state that meet accessibility requirements, but accessible to all does not mean engaging for all, or fun for all or exciting for all. The Inspiration Playground imagines the world from a point of view of children, with diverse interests and abilities, and offers opportunities for exploration, play and risk-taking.”
Impressive and worth a trip
This long-awaited addition to the local park scene is an absolute must on the summer bucket list of any Eastside parent — and it is worth a visit from across the bridge or farther afield. In addition to the playground itself, the park has completed the last portion of its circular promenade, great for kids on wheels; and at the park’s center, an expanse of grassy fields offers plenty of room for picnics and play.
You won’t get out of this one quickly, so pack snacks and plan to spend upwards of a couple of hours in very active fun. The upside? The kids are bound to be ready for some quiet time when you get back home.
If you go ...
When: The park is open daily from 6 a.m.–11 p.m.
Parking: There are two free parking lots at the park, with additional street parking available.
Restrooms: Public restrooms are located next to the playground.
Nearby bonus: Just a few blocks away is the recently re-opened KidsQuest Children’s Museum, with a plethora of educational fun for kiddos big and small to be had in a groovy new space.
Insider tip: Forgot to pack lunch? Stop by Seattle’s famous Beecher's Handmade Cheese stand at Bellevue Square shopping center just a block away and grab some cheese, salads and sandwiches for a yummy park picnic. On your way back, drop by the Kids Cove play area on the third floor, or head to Lincoln Square across the street for a post-park family outing of bowling or a movie.