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A Park Above - Where All Kids Play
New Mexico's First Universally Accessible Park

Landscape Architecture by City of St. George Park Planning Division


A Park Above, located in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, was designed by Consensus Planning, Inc., in conjunction with the city's parks and recreation department. What sets this park "above" other parks is the deliberate integration of play equipment, shade structures, site furnishings, finishes, landscaping and technology to address safe navigation and stimulation for people of all ages and abilities.


Accessible and traditional play equipment were placed side by side. In addition to the belt, bucket, and adaptive molded swings seen here, wheelchair platforms and group swings are located in the park.

On October 12, 2013, following nearly three years of design, extensive fundraising, and construction, a groundbreaking ceremony was held at A Park Above. Designed by Consensus Planning, Inc., with the city's park and recreation department, this all-inclusive 6-acre park in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, is the state's first universally accessible park, setting the standard for all future parks in New Mexico. Numerous meetings were held with community stakeholders and experts to ensure the park design would meet the needs of a broad range of disabilities and abilities.

Although the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive benefits of playgrounds have long been praised, the amenities of such places have often only been available to agile, able-bodied children. ADA guidelines ensure a wheelchair may traverse a site, but it only identifies the bare minimum to achieve accessibility. Issues such as balance, movement, tactile, visual, and auditory experiences must be considered to make all users feel as if they belong on the playground. This is not to say that traditional playground features such as belt swings and slides are obsolete; rather, these features need to be incorporated alongside truly accessible swings and other features so that children of all abilities can play together rather than be segregated based on their abilities.


Many of the play areas have synthetic turf surfacing with integrated anti-static technology. By reducing static shocks, the turf minimizes detrimental conflicts caused by shocks to cochlear implants, hearing aids, pacemakers, and other devices.


The splashpad is a zero water depth surface, offering a variety of water movement sensations in an interactive environment. It is approximately 1,000 square feet and includes ground level geysers, fountain sprays, misters, and thematic features (water garden, frog, and a leaf). All of the features put out relatively low gallons per minute to minimize water use. The splashpad drains to a sanitary sewer line, which drains directly to the city's wastewater treatment facility adjacent to the park.

These ideals set the visionary goals for A Park Above. A combination park and playground, the sloping site is fully accessible and includes fun and therapeutic play experiences designed to meet typical playground expectations, as well as the needs of children and adults with sensory, developmental, cognitive, or physical disabilities. Parallel, group, and solitary play needs are addressed for those visitors needing such accommodations. Sensory stimulation is a key feature, so colorful, eye-catching objects with tactile interest for both form and function occur throughout the park. There is even an area dedicated to musical play!

The park includes environments designed for a variety of play experiences to encourage socialization, creativity, and imaginative play. Multiple play areas offer slides (traditional and embankment styles), swings (belt, bucket, adaptive molded, wheelchair platform, and group), climbers, spinners, rockers, balancing, tunnels, small skills play, sensory features, court and table games, splashpad, bocce court and multi-use court spaces, labyrinth, dog park, fitness circuit, amphitheater, and custom full-site A/V features for music and motion-sensor security features. Plus, custom artwork is found throughout the park, including the bathrooms. Shaded areas for seating and gathering are essential to meet user needs and are provided throughout the park.



The founder of A Park Above, Jennie Riedl, installed the mosaic tiles and murals found throughout the park. Riedl introduced the butterfly motif after visiting a similarly inclusive park in Lakeland, Fla. The park, Common Ground, had a butterfly theme, which Reidl saw as a new beginning in park design for children and adults of all abilities.


Though the site is sloped, it is fully accessible and meets typical playground expectations. Areas are available for parallel, group and solitary play. Volunteers and city staff helped complete the park, and some of the materials were donated.

Given the arid, high-desert location, the xeric plant palette provides a colorful, multi-textured variety of plants, creating year-around interest. A series of swales and check dams supplement the recycled effluent irrigation system. All park features are connected via a wide loop path with painted edging; additional tactile edging identifies when approaching an active play area. The entire play area is surrounded by perimeter fencing with gates that feature accessible locking mechanisms.

Due to a shortfall in funding, the city of Rio Rancho and A Park Above, Inc., worked to cobble together monetary and material donations, and used city staff and volunteer labor to aid the contractor in completing the park. This level of support and effort by all involved crystallized A Park Above as a true community space.

Back to the groundbreaking event... New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez shared a childhood memory of being at the playground while her sister sat on the sidelines in her wheelchair. They were sisters that never had the opportunity to play together at a playground. At A Park Above, this exclusionary scenario is eliminated and the governor, her sister, and the entire community will have the opportunity to play, learn, and grow together. As Albert Einstein said, "Play is the highest form of research!"

Project Team:
Owner: City of Rio Rancho Parks, Recreation and Community Services (Jay Hart, Director; Dyane Sonier, Resource Development Manager; and John Finley, Project Coordinator)
Non-Profit Inspiration Organization: A Park Above, Inc. (Jennie Riedl, Founder and President/CEO)
Landscape Architect: Consensus Planning, Inc. (Laurie Firor, PLA, ASLA; Chris Green, PLA, LEED AP, ASLA)
Landscape Architecture Sub-Consultan
t: Surroundings Studio, LLC (Faith Okuma, PLA, LEED AP, AICP) Civil Engineering Consultant: Huitt-Zollars, Inc. (Jarrod Likar, PE)
Electrical Engineering Consultant: The Response Group (Al Pielhau)
Restroom Building Architect: Ron Montoya Designs, Inc. (Berenice Grijalva)

Landscape Structures: play structures
Playworld Systems: play structures
Freenotes Harmony Park: musical play
Greenfields Outdoor Fitness: fitness equipment
Vortex: spraypad equipment
Cre8Play: tunnel
UltraSite: benches, tables, litter receptacles
Wausau Tile: bollards
Dero: bike racks

General Contractor: BCL Enterprises (Todd Benedetto and Glenn Benedetto)
Electrical Contractor: Bixby Electrical
Plumbing Contractor: TLC Plumbing & Utility
Grading & Drainage Contractors: Joiner Construction, Inc., RMCI, Inc.
Artist Installations: Jennie Riedl (mosaic tiles, murals, etc.)



As seen in LASN magazine, September 2017.

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October 20, 2019, 8:05 pm PDT

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