The idea of the Morgan Hill Magical Bridge inclusive playground started out nearly eight years ago as the brainchild of local couple Ron and Shirlee Locicero. The new park—which is home to a variety of swings, slides, sensory features, musical installations and an outdoor classroom accessible to everyone—is finally scheduled to open June 4.
The Lociceros, city staff and other park proponents think Magical Bridge will be hugely popular not only among Morgan Hill residents; it will also attract visitors from throughout the region, where playgrounds and park facilities for people with special needs are scarce.
“We can’t wait to see the kids play here. It will be a showcase for the City of Morgan Hill,” Shirlee Locicero said during a recent preview tour of the new park.
The Magical Bridge playground occupies the central portion of the city’s Community Park off West Edmundson Avenue. While the playground will be open to everyone, it is designed to accommodate users of all ages with special needs, autism or physical disabilities and their families.
The entire facility is fenced in with only one opening that serves as the entrance and exit. Play features were selected and designed to activate all five senses and help develop muscles all over the body. The “Swing Zone” includes several swing sets designed for easy balance or use with a wheelchair. An “expressive swing” allows a parent and child to swing together.
The “Spin Zone” includes merry-go-round style installations with extra safety features and plenty of space for users of all sizes, ages and abilities. “Slide Mountain” features three giant slides, each with a different sensory surface, the Lociceros explained during the recent tour.
A “Magical Harp” plays a full musical range of sounds depending on how one moves their hands, feet and limbs under a row of sensors—which also trigger a selection of colorful lights. The harp was installed with the help of a donation from the Junior League of San Jose.
A giant two-story playhouse occupies a corner of the southern portion of the park. A sand and water play area will be fenced in on the other side, and the ground surface of the entire playground is covered in a soft synthetic material designed to prevent extensive pain or injury if someone falls or trips.
The Lociceros were inspired to set out on their quest to bring an inclusive playground to Morgan Hill more than eight years ago by their more than 70 years combined experience as teachers—before they retired. Shirlee Locicero recalled that while serving yard duty at elementary school recess, she often noticed that the children with special needs didn’t have many play options on more mainstream playgrounds.
“They would just stand next to me during recess,” Shirlee said. “That was part of the reason we wanted to do a park like this (where) all the kids can play together and understand each other and accept each other.”
The couple spent months researching the types of features to include for special needs visitors at the new playground. This included visiting other inclusive playgrounds in Salinas, San Jose, Concord and other locations—and encouraging city staff to join them.
Ron Locicero brought the idea to the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, of which he is a member. In 2017, the city approved an agreement with the nonprofit Magical Bridge Foundation to market, promote, design and raise funds for a new inclusive playground. The playground was designed by Verde Designs, and has been constructed by CRW Construction.
The Lociceros, city staff and Magical Bridge raised funds from a variety of sources to get construction started. So many people raised funds that a portion of the park will contain a recognition wall with tiles engraved with donors’ names.
One of the key donors is the Santa Clara County Office of Education, which contributed funds to build an outdoor classroom on the southern edge of the playground. This idea was conceived before the pandemic, and the enthusiasm and possibilities for the facility have only grown in the days of social distancing and virtual learning, Ron explained.
The outdoor classroom will be available to schools and students from throughout Santa Clara County, as well as for special events.
“This will be a draw for all the schools in Morgan Hill and Gilroy,” Ron said. “People who build new parks (in the future) will see it and want to do it.”
City officials will host a grand opening celebration at the Magical Bridge playground on Saturday, June 4, with a full day of activities, performances and refreshments.