ST. GEORGE – The long awaited Thunder Junction All Abilities Park is set to debut to the public Saturday. A brief ceremony will begin at noon at the front gate; after which the park will officially open.
Saturday’s opening is being hailed as an event years in the making and one that has brought the community together in many ways, said Kent Perkins, leisure services director for the City of St. George.
“It’s probably one of the most extraordinary things that we’ve done as a community,” Perkins said.
The park, located adjacent to Tonaquint Nature Center at 1851 S. Dixie Drive in St. George, was designed and built to accommodate children with disabilities and those without and provide a space where everyone can play side-by-side.
Tiles with the handprints of children and youth are displayed throughout Thunder Junction’s grounds. They are called the “hands that built the park” and are an example of how the community came together to bring the park to fruition, Perkins said.
Donations from the Elk’s Foundation and the St. George Exchange Club helped to pay for the hands, Perkins said with gratitude.
“The handprints are because somebody was generous enough to step up,” Perkins said adding that they are one of his favorite features.
Though they are called the ‘hands that built the park,” Perkins said in reality, they are the hands the park was built for.
“But most importantly, again, we are doing this for people,” St. George Mayor Jon Pike, said echoing Perkins, “for the people of St. George, for people of all ages and all abilities, that’s the point.”
The park carries a dinosaur theme throughout and has several special features ideal for children with all abilities including a sensory garden, wheelchair accessible playground features, splashpad and a 1/4-scale train that circles the park on 2,700 feet of track.
The All Abilities Park has been a labor of love for many since it was first conceptualized and anticipation is high for Saturday’s opening, said St. George City Manager, Gary Esplin.
“I’ve never been involved in a project over the 40 years I’ve been here as city manager where more people have come together,” an emotional Esplin said.
The city broke ground on the park in January of 2015 and, according a previous St. George News report had initially slated to open in summer of that same year. But as city planners and designers listened to various groups that serve the special needs community, the park’s design evolved and many features were added.
Esplin said that his desire to make the park a place of love and acceptance for all was fueled in part by his grandson who would have been a child with special needs but passed away at 13 months old.
“He touched my heart to make this even more spectacular,” Esplin said.
The new park will likely set a precedent for the state and even the nation on how to build a park that serves and includes people of different abilities.
“In my opinion, there won’t be another facility like this in the country,” Esplin said.
Perkins hopes the park is seen as a legacy for St. George and looks forward to seeing it become a place that everyone can enjoy.
When asked if he would come and play on it, Perkins said he undoubtedly would.
Saturday’s opening is expected to draw a big crowd, Perkins said, and the city wants to accommodate everyone who has a desire to be there. Families who are able are encouraged to use the city bike paths to reach the park and take advantage of a bike valet with bike racks which will be set up for the event.
All of the park’s features will be operating, Perkins said. The volcano will be “erupting,” dinosaurs will be “roaring” and the train will be running.
Train rides will be sold for $1.
Live music and special guests will round out the fun.
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- What: Thunder Junction All Abilities Park opening.
- When: Saturday, Oct. 8, noon.
- Where: Thunder Junction All Abilities Park, 1851 S. Dixie Drive, St. George.
- Cost: Free; train rides $1
- Additional Information: Guests are encouraged to ride their bikes to the park and take advantage of a bike valet that will be provided.
- Thunder Junction All Abilities Park: Website
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