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Final addition opens at Darrell's Dream Boundless Playground

April 23rd, 2012 10:25 pm by Matthew Lane

Final addition opens at Darrell's Dream Boundless Playground

Betty DeVinney, president of the Friends of Warriors Path organization, speaks at the grand opening of the Palmer Center Foundation Amphitheater addition to Darrell's Dream Boundless Playground Monday at the park. David Grace photo.

KINGSPORT — Warriors Path State Park officially opened the newest and final addition to the Darrell’s Dream Boundless Playground Monday morning — a 200-seat amphitheater designed for a variety of uses, from small, lecture-style programs to full-stage productions.

Nearly a hundred people including friends of the park, elected officials and community volunteers came out to Warriors Path on an unusually cold and windy April morning to celebrate the opening of the Palmer Center Foundation Amphitheater — the fourth and final phase of the all-accessible playground complex and the only one of its kind in the United States.

“This is the final phase of a 12-year project,” said Betty DeVinney, president of the Friends of Warriors Path organization and chair of the Darrell’s Dream project. “I think you can understand our love of this place.”

The amphitheater is located beyond the restrooms and tree house walkway on the outskirts of the playground and was built using the existing hillside and natural basin with terrace seating made of segmented blocks. The grassy aisles can host audiences from 200 to more than 1,000, accessible by an inclined walking path with cutouts for wheelchairs.

The amphitheater includes a dual-level, 900-square-foot stage and is designed for intimate, lecture-style programming as well as full-stage productions for larger audiences. Mary Steadman, a member of Friends of Warriors Path, said the park envisions many uses for the amphitheater including educational programming, lectures, outdoor movies and concerts, and possibly weddings.

Kassie Socks of Kingsport brought her wheelchair-bound daughter, Kaylee, to Monday’s grand opening, thanking everyone involved in creating the boundless playground.

“So much goes into our planning when we go to a place like this, to have a chance to play with her peers and children her age. This place is amazing,” Socks said. “I’m very thankful to see people come together to build something for people with all types of abilities.”

“Thank you everyone for doing this,” Kaylee added. “Sometimes I can’t get out to play, and I want to get out and do this stuff.”

Darrell’s Dream Boundless Playground is a unique play area that accommodates any child regardless of physical obstacles (blind, visually impaired or disabled) with learning opportunities for children of all abilities.

Planning for the playground began in 2001 by the Friends of Warriors Path State Park organization, led at that time by the late Darrell Rice, an active community volunteer who died in 2004.

Supported by a wide range of area businesses, nonprofit organizations and individual citizens, the playground opened in 2007 featuring three different play areas designed to cater to a slightly different type of play, including elevated sandboxes, swings and slides, a landscape maze and picnic areas. CenturyLink provides free Wi-Fi throughout the playground.

Since opening, the park has seen three additions — the Lions Narnia Braille Trail (in 2009), the Anderson Tree House (in 2010) and now the amphitheater. The tree house overlooks the playground and is universally accessible, featuring a 240-foot winding walkway that can be walked or navigated by wheelchair.

“This has truly been a labor of love that has stretched out over 11 years,” DeVinney said. “The community support for this complex has been tremendous, and we all hold Darrell and his dream in our hearts as both the originator of the Friends group and the concept for this playground.”

More than $4 million has been spent on the playground, including $1 million in state grants. The cost of the amphitheater was approximately $160,000.

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