Inclusive Park and Recreation Design: Versluis Park,
Grand Rapids, Michigan
"It broke my heart every day seeing Dad or Mom seated on the
pavement watching their kids play 100 feet away on the beach."
These words from John Short, Parks Director of Plainfield Charter
Township, echoed the feelings of many in the community.
This quickly growing township on the northeast edge of Grand Rapids
saw a need at Versluis Park and responded to the challenge. Tired
of observing patrons who were unable to engage in beach and water
activities because of varying abilities, they decided to do something
To achieve their goal of a fully accessible park, the necessary funds
were secured through a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant,
with 50% local match. The Township then hired two consultants: Progressive
AE for site design and engineering services and Cindy Burkhour, an
inclusive recreation consultant with Access Recreation Group for accessibility
expertise. A three-way partnership was formed to creatively eliminate
obstacles to universal enjoyment of this lakefront area.
|A Versluis Park goal is to become fully accessible.|
"This was truly a team effort, with our client providing
the vision, Cindy contributing insight into recreation accessibility-above
and beyond ADA compliance, and Progressive solving the design challenges,"
stated Greg Scott, project designer for Progressive.
Versluis Park comprises playground areas, picnic facilities, beach
and swimming areas with lifeguard stations and a bathhouse, fishing,
boating, and two miles of paved walking trails. Rather than creating
"separate but equal" facilities, the design team wanted
to provide recreational opportunities for people who are physically
challenged by integrating them into the fabric of the park.
Their solution included:
The park borders a 50-acre manmade lake that evolved from a sand and
gravel mining operation. The lake is separated from a large river
by a tiny sliver of land. The lake level rises and falls with the
level of the Grand River--a seasonal fluctuation of approximately
7 feet. Because the park is in a floodplain, the parking lot and restroom
facilities are on high ground that can be up to 14' higher than the
water elevation in some instances.
- Beach access consisting of a deck, transfer step/backrest, shade
trellis and seating
- Lake access from a wheelchair ramp and transfer-step system
down to the water
- Water-side viewing via a 300' boardwalk with railing design
that is sensitive to user sight-lines
- Fishing access from a floating pier that has seating and wheelchair
accessible fishing stations
The design goal was to make the grade transitions seem like a logical
progression of travel, rather than a forced set of switchback ramps.
This was accomplished by grade transitions of considerable length
that lead to landings with intermediate activities. These spacious
landings act as resting spots or spring points to multiple destinations.
|Versluis Park grade transitions.
Due to lake level fluctuation, maintaining universal access to
each recreational component, regardless of the prevailing conditions,
posed an engineering challenge. The lake access transfer step system
needed morethan one entry point to accommodate both very high and
very low lake level conditions. This was accomplished by the inclusion
of an adjacent wheelchair ramp, which could bring a patron down
to a halfway entry point in low water conditions in addition to
serving its primary function of water access.
A poured-in-place slip-resistant rubber surface on the ramp, galvanized
metal railings and colored accent bands on the edge of the transfer
steps all help to guide or assist users into the water whether the
surfaces are above or below the lake water. The adjacent beach access
deck, transfer steps, and wheelchair ramp are all within the heart
of the park. Bench seating and a shade trellis are used to draw all
park visitors to this area of the beach, successfully integrating
people of all abilities. "Our intent was to create a gathering
spot where all visitors could interact--this has been successful beyond
our expectations. The steps and ramp are also used as a shallow water
play area by young children while their parents watch under the comfort
of the shade trellis. It has become a real focal point of activity
for the beachfront", said Greg Scott.
|Versluis Park wheelchair ramp.
The fishing pier is a floating facility that rises and falls with
the lake level. The engineering design was complicated by the extreme
grade drop from the boardwalk to the end of the fishing pier in
low water conditions. To maintain universal accessibility, it was
necessary to have a landing after 30" of grade drop before
another ramp continued down to the fishing portion of the pier.
The solution was a landing that "locks in" at the necessary
elevation by means of legs and spread feet that rest on the lake
bottom. The legs are adjustable so the landing may be raised in
extreme high water conditions.
The pier takes advantage of excellent fishing due to several years
of stocking fish by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
It includes four accessible fishing stations that have low railings
with the capability to secure fishing rod handles. Fish retrieval
openings and small bench seats are adjacent to wheelchair accessible
areas, letting all devoted fishermen entertain each other with their
favorite fishing stories.
|Versluis Park fishing pier.
|Versluis Park inclusive design.|
While other Michigan parks have begun paying attention to inclusive
design, it was John Short's intent to fully embrace the spirit of
the law (ADA compliance). "If you're going to build new, why
not be inclusive 100%?" John further noted that these facilities
are used extensively every day during the summer months, "We
have a gentleman who comes on a daily basis, transfers into the
water via the steps and swims laps in the swim area". Whether
it is an individual or one of the many groups from area schools,
all can find recreation opportunities that previously were not available
Cindy Burkhour considers the Versluis park waterfront a leading
example of what creativity, commitment and thinking outside of the
box can accomplish. "I don't know of any [other Michigan parks]
that are as successful in providing access to these types of facilities."
It is the project team's hope that Versluis Park will become a
model for others, encouraging communities to make the effort to
incorporate inclusive facilities into their parks. With a little
extra effort and financial commitment, all patrons can enjoy recreational
For more information about this project, contact:
John Short, Parks Director
Plainfield Charter Township
P.O. Box 365
6161 Belmont, NE
Belmont, Michigan 49306
Phone: (616) 364-1197
Gregory H. Scott, ASLA, Project Manager
1811 4-Mile Road, NE
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49525
Phone: (616) 361-2664
Cindy Burkhour, MA, CTRS, CLP
Inclusive Recreation Consultant
Access Recreation Group
2454 Lamplighter Drive
Jenison, Michigan 49428
Phone: (616) 669-9109