The Universal Access Playground at Gallup Park, a playground for children of all ages and abilities, was a centennial gift from the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor to the city in 2016, meant to help build a more inclusive city. The club added an Interactive Wildlife Exhibit to the park this October.
In the exhibit, children are encouraged to explore the biodiversity of Michigan through three themed play areas: woodland, river and prairie.
Sumedh Bahl, a member of the Rotary Club, was the project manager for this new addition to the playground. Bahl emphasized the accessibility of the exhibit, noting that it “went beyond” the baseline requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and can be used by virtually anyone.
“No person, whether it’s children or adults, will have difficulty accessing the playground,” Bahl said.
The first piece is a scavenger hunt that is made up of six signs that encourage children to use their senses to see, hear and feel the nature around them, like objects floating on the Huron River. The second exhibit is a concentration matching game in which children can sharpen their visual memory.
The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor worked with various local organizations on the project, including the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum and the Leslie Science Center. They ultimately commissioned a local company, Flutter and Wow, to craft these two interactive elements. Meghan Sullivan, a content creator for Flutter and Wow, led the project.
“We are known for creating one-of-a-kind, super creative experiences for galleries and museums,” Sullivan said. “And in all of our work, we aim to be accessible across age, across learning style, across ability so that with any exhibit, anyone who’s going up to it, no matter what age they are, will be able to get something out of it.”
Flutter and Wow worked with Detroit-based artist Marissa John to create the matching game that teaches children interesting facts about the surrounding flora and fauna.
Gallup Park, which is situated close to campus along the Huron River, offers a running path, nature trails and lookout points in addition to the playground.
University of Michigan LSA junior Natalie White said she enjoys spending her free time exploring local parks in Ann Arbor.
“I love to go to parks whenever I need to clear my head, especially when it’s a beautiful day. Parks often remind me of less stressful times with my friends or family,” White said.
White, who is studying Biology, Health and Society, said exhibits like this sparked her interest in science and wildlife when she was a child.
“The Huron River allows kids to associate great childhood memories of fun with being close to nature,” White said. “I know that when I was young I loved to read the signs about the ecosystem around me, which furthered my interest in STEM, which I study now.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring, the meetings for the exhibit’s design team switched to an online format. The team was still able to innovate and install the exhibits in October. They are designed to be enjoyed during all seasons and the scavenger hunt can also be completed completely hands-free.
Bahl worked as a liaison between the city of Ann Arbor Parks Department and Flutter and Wow on the project.
“When everybody works together and adjusts to what’s going on, to what’s thrown at you, things can be done,” Bahl said. “In the end … human beings are very resilient.”
Daily News Contributor Brooke Van Horne can be reached at email@example.com.
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