The Dale Belcher Memorial Park saw the grand opening on Wednesday of a section of the park set aside for a “Sensory Smart” playground to give a better place for children with special needs to spend recreational time outdoors.
Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley said the idea for the playground was originally thought of by the Harlan County Rotary Club and was brought to fruition with the aid of the Harlan Fiscal Court.
“It was the Rotary Club’s vision,” Mosley said. “This was an old tennis court that was repurposed for a Sensory Smart playground for children with disabilities including sensory related disorders.”
Mosley said the Rotary Club approached him with the idea approximately 18 months ago.
“They’d been raising some money,” Mosley said. “We were able to go back to the drawing board and identify some money that had been assigned to a coal severance project for kids that had never gotten off the ground.”
Mosley explained that money was re-scoped to be used for the playground.
“Rep. Rick Nelson, Rep. Fitz Steele and Rep. Johnny Turner were very helpful in the process,” Mosley said. “We were able to get the money re-scoped and get the bid in to build it. It ran over a little bit, but the Rotary Club was able to use the funds that got donated to cover what went over, and we’re here today. It’s ready to open, and we can’t be more excited about it.”
Mosley called the playground one of the most worthwhile projects he’s been involved with since taking office.
“This is a sector of the population that doesn’t have enough,” Mosley said. “My biggest thing was I wanted to do something to help the Rotary Club achieve this goal, and achieve it in a faster time frame rather than having to wait years upon years in order to raise the money.”
Harlan Rotary Club President Drenda Crider said the Club has been working on the Sensory Smart playground for some time.
“The idea was to do a Sensory Smart park for kids in the area with physical and mental challenges that could benefit from it,” Crider said. “These tennis courts weren’t utilized as much because of the new tennis courts downtown, and it’s been a huge success so far.”
Crider said there are plans for more improvements to the park.
“We hope to get everything in and finished and have a big kid’s celebration day this summer,” Crider said.
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-909-4132 or on Twitter @joe_hde