Wood County Plays Creates Playgrounds for All Abilities

Local non-profit promotes inclusion and empathy

Wood County Plays has opened their first park, The Perrysburg Inclusive Playground, presented by Mercy Health Partners. Born out of necessity, Ryan and Kaley Wichman founded Wood County Plays after taking their two-and-a-half-year-old son, Grant, to a playdate where he was unable to play. 

Grant was born with a rare genetic disorder that causes physical mobility challenges. He uses a walker and was unable to access the playground and utilize the equipment due to mulch and stairs. “We went home that night and began researching inclusive playgrounds and learning as much as we could,” says Kaley. 

Grant laughs with friends Donny, Zach and Audrey Zylka as his dad, Ryan Wichman, pushes them on their merry-go-round.
Photo by Kaley Wichman

Building from the ground up
The Wichmans are not running Wood County Plays alone. 

“Ryan called the Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities and was able to speak with the superintendent, Mr. Baer,” Kaley shares. “Ryan explained we wanted to build an inclusive playground. The superintendent immediately jumped in.”

Baer assisted the Wichmans with contacting other families who he knew could benefit from the playground. They developed a steering committee consisting of parents, therapists, doctors, school psychologists and grandparents. The steering committee assesses needs through community surveys and public meetings. 

Asher Hoge runs freely and safely through the playground.
Photo by Kaley Wichman

Building an inclusive playground can be cost-prohibitive, but the community has rallied behind the organization. Wood County Plays was able to fund the $825,000 inclusive playground with assistance from Mercy Health Partners, fundraising, private donations and a state grant. Volunteers gave of their time to complete tasks such as landscaping and assembling the playground equipment. Masons from Local 886 donated time to pour the concrete and assist in other areas of the playground. 

Meeting the goal of empathy and inclusion
Inclusive playgrounds create play space for children and adults of all abilities to play together. Features that you will find at Perrysburg Inclusive include rubber pavement instead of mulch. The rubber pavement is red in “danger areas” to help those with visual impairments take caution around the swings and zip lines. Racing zip lines include a special seat allowing those with low muscle tone or needing back support to participate. There are ramps that lead to slides instead of stairs. Slides are designed in a way to eliminate static that interferes with cochlear implants. A fence surrounds the playground to help protect those who lack safety awareness. 

“This is not just about accessibility but also inclusivity and empathy. Creating these spaces allows adults and children with or without disabilities to do things together that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do,” Arica Hoge says of Wood County Plays’s mission.

Asher Hoge runs freely and safely through the playground.
Photo by Arica Hoge

Arica, mother of Asher (6) and Liam (8), was one of the first families contacted by Ryan in 2019. He called her the same day Asher fled a park that was not fenced in. Asher has Autism and a history of running into danger.

“He was four at the time,” says Arica. “He ran through the tree line and straight into Eckel Junction Rd. I was running after him, screaming for him to stop. Thankfully a teenager hopped off his bike and scooped him up,” she recalls. Having a park with a fence helps keep kids like Asher safe and allows them to play at the same place as siblings. 

Kaley anticipates the momentum to keep growing. Wood County Plays has been approved to build another inclusive playground at Carter Park in Bowling Green. “We really cannot say enough about how the community came together and built this playground. Perrysburg was exceptional and I know Bowling Green is just as excited.” 

Wood County Plays first playground, Perrysburg Inclusive, is located at Rotary Community 26350 Ft. Meigs Rd., Perrsyburg Park. To learn more about Wood County Plays, visit their website or find their Facebook page