Adaptive swing
ADAPTABLE Aisley Peterson, 5, enjoys the new adaptive swing at Healdsburg’s Gibbs Park.

Healdsburg’s parks are getting more attention as summer approaches. But all the noise over the recent opening of the Fitch Mountain Open Space should not overshadow the value of the city’s parks system, especially the small neighborhood parks within walking distance of most in-town residents.

Many families returning to these neighborhood parks are finding a new element on the swing  set—a green adaptive swing, with a sturdy molded seat and a drop-down harness, that gives disabled children the opportunity to swing like other kids.

At Giorgi Park, the bulked-out green swing hangs from a tripod structure with three other regular swings, but they all provide one of the quintessential play activities that kids enjoy: a gentle ride back and forth, propelled by a supportive parent or the child’s own weight, ever higher into the realm of imagination.

Emily Peterson brought her 5-year-old daughter, Aisley, to Giorgi Park in a stroller to try the new swing. They live almost a mile away near Badger Park, which doesn’t have a swing that Aisley can enjoy.

Once placed in the swing at Giorgi, though, Aisley clearly enjoyed the rhythmic movement, her mother’s attention and the proximity of other children.

Aisley has Cornelia de Lange syndrome (CdLS), a genetic birth condition that leads to delayed physical development. Though she’s five years old, she’s quite small and nonverbal, with the condition’s distinctive facial appearance—but she can communicate enjoyment, or displeasure, when she feels it.

And she loves the swing.

The swings were installed at Giorgi, Gibbs and the new Barbieri Brothers city parks last year. The manufacturer, Miracle Recreation of Monett, Missouri, promises users “a high-flying ride while helping them coordinate head and eye movements, stay upright against gravity, develop balance equilibrium and coordinate actions on the right and left sides of the body.”

The difference is that the green adaptive swing is contoured to the body, designed for kids with physical or emotional needs for support, and has a three-point harness to safely secure the child. “Using an inclusive swing seat helps kids stay upright against gravity, allowing them to develop stronger balance, equilibrium and coordination,” according to Miracle Recreation.

Private Initiative

The three new swings installed in local parks so far were sparked by a donation from a reader-supported fund established by Weeklys publisher Dan Pulcrano, who purchased the Healdsburg Tribune in March 2022.

A self-described “park nerd,” and the founding president of the San Jose Parks Foundation, Pulcrano was inspired by the work done by Julie Matsushima, who spearheaded a $6.5 million drive to build perhaps the most accessible playground in Northern California, Rotary PlayGarden.

Though accessible playgrounds have since sprouted up in Novato and Cotati among other locations, Pulcrano recognized that Healdsburg was, at least at the time, “truly underplaygrounded.” So he offered to help underwrite some adaptive swings, and Healdsburg’s Noon Rotary Club doubled his offer from their foundation account, providing the city with $8,000 worth of new equipment.

“Dan was terrific,” said Graham Freeman of the Rotary. “Just the fact that he’d done something similar in San Jose. It was his brainchild to say, ‘If we’ve got them there, why don’t we have them in Healdsburg?’ The irony is that we’d never thought about it; I don’t think anyone had really thought about it until he came up with the idea.”

Freeman said there was no trouble getting the Rotary to match the grant. “When we talked to the board about the program, everyone was very much supportive of getting this done,” he said. “And as it turns out, from what I understand, they’re getting plenty of use in the community now.”

Pulcrano offered equal praise for Freeman. “We needed a champion to make sure it got done,” he said. “It sounds easy to buy and clip on a few swings, but municipal projects are never simple. Graham and the club members patiently stayed the course, working with Community Services officials to complete the project.”

Accessible Playgrounds

SWINGING MOM Emily Peterson enjoys giving her daughter Aisley a chance to swing at Giorgi Park.

However, some of the local parents say that despite the three swings, Healdsburg’s parks are a long way from being accessible to children with disabilities. Specifically, there is no wheelchair-accessible path to the swing itself—the swing dangles over what most call “bark,” though City Parks Director Jaime Licea points out it’s American Society for Testing Materials ASTM-F1292, approved for playground surfaces within the use zone of playground equipment.

Licea said, “Community Services has been actively prioritizing accessibility in its parks, as demonstrated by the comprehensive Accessibility Evaluation conducted in 2017.” The most recent results of that prioritizing can be seen at Villa Dog Park and the Fitch Mountain Public Access Improvements, “both executed with accessibility in mind.”

ADA pathways do improve access to the dog park and an overlook of the bridge over the creek that marks the beginning of the Fitch Mountain trail to the summit. “These projects reflect our dedication to creating inclusive spaces for the community,” Licea said.

By comparison, the newly opened Pioneer Park in Novato is replete with play structures “thoughtfully designed with adaptive play elements, including ramps and platforms for individuals with mobility limitations, rubberized play surfacing, umbrellas and benches, and a number of new adaptive structures such as swing sets and a sensory wave Rock n Raft,” according to the City’s description of the inauguration.

At a lesser scale, Kotate Park in Cotati on LaSalle Avenue has adaptive features, and even the Town Green Park in Windsor has a ground-level carousel so there’s no need to climb onto it. That addresses one of many parents’ primary dissatisfactions—accessibility onto the play structure itself.

“I think that’s what we have heard from disability advocates, is that the overall design of our playgrounds is really difficult for families and children with disabilities,” said Councilmember Ariel Kelley. As mayor in 2023, she worked closely with Freeman, Pulcrano and Licea in the process of bringing the adaptive swings to Healdsburg. 

Design Development

Just last month, the City Council was updated on the planning process for two major park development projects—Badger Park, with an estimated redevelopment budget of $13.47 million (much of it focused on opening the park to improved river access); and a full development budget of $32.6 million for the new Saggio Hills park on the northern edge of the city.

Since funding for these two parks is falling short of the goals, City staff recommended that the council establish priorities for each project, so design and planning can begin on a master plan instead of tackling the goals piecemeal, one at a time.

Girl in swing
Aisley Peterson, 5

“We really need to look at the overall design of the playgrounds, not just an element-by-element basis,” said Kelley in response. “‘Inclusive playgrounds’ is an entire body of work that’s happening across the country to make playgrounds more accessible to kids with a variety of physical limitations.”

Since public involvement is invited during this stage of the planning process, advocates of inclusive playgrounds and elements say the time to speak up is now.

 “I truly hope that as we spend millions of dollars renovating these future playgrounds, that we do it in a way that is inclusive for kids with all abilities,” Kelley said.

Common Ground Society is a local organization connecting families who have children with varying diagnoses.

Previous articlePackers Line Up for New Season
Next articleLittle Saint to Close its Upstairs Restaurant
Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2008, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here