Playgrounds for all ages at Blandair Regional Park, Columbia

The south side (Part 1)

Active recreation is the theme for the first 100 acres of Blandair Park, a 300 acre regional park being developed in the center of Columbia by Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks. Construction of two phases has been completed on the land south of MD-175 at Oakland Mills Road.  Phase 3, just begun, will introduce additional options for play by all ages and abilities, and nearly complete the south side build out.

Back in 2005-2010, I advocated as part of the Thunder Hill Park Alliance to make the entire parcel a nature park.  Thankfully, the 200 acres on the north side are intended to be a preserve of forest, wetlands, and meadows, with a nature center, children’s garden, and a historic farm complex.  

Read further for an orientation (with lots of pictures) to what amenities are on the south side now and the innovative plans for Phase 3. It’s a long post, but scroll through for the pictures. We’ll look at the plans for the north side in Part 2.

~ Harry Schwarz

What is Blandair Park? [Excerpts]

by Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks

Blandair Park is one of the county’s premier destinations for sports events. . . . . Amenities now available include three lighted synthetic turf multipurpose fields, 2 lighted synthetic ball fields, press boxes and bleachers, along with playgrounds, pavilions, tennis courts, restrooms and a parking lots.

Blandair Regional Park, south side of MD-175, looking West (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks). Phase 2 is in the foreground, now complete. Phase 3, now being constructed, is the undeveloped land upper right center.
Blandair Park, Phase 2 , now completed (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR ENLARGED VIEW

The farm [that became Blandair Park] traces its beginnings to lands granted to the Talbot family in colonial times, and it was later owned by members of the Dorsey, Howard, and Weems families. In 1845, Theodorick Bland, Chancellor of Maryland (1824-1846), purchased it and named it “Blandair.”  . . . . The last residing owner, Nancy Smith, passed away in 1997 and the farm, long having ceased operations, was purchased by Howard County with assistance from the State’s Program Open Space in 1998 for use as a park.

Challenge Course playground, Blandair Park (Harry Schwarz)
Challenge Course playground, Blandair Park (Harry Schwarz)

In 2001, a committee of 23 citizens was appointed to advise the County on the direction it should take in developing the park. The Committee determined that the North Area should feature historical interpretation, preserve natural areas, and provide predominately passive recreation and nature education. It also could provide space for occasional large outdoor gatherings. They determined that the South Area should provide more facilities for active recreation, as well as preserve its natural areas.

Approved Master Plan, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR ENLARGED VIEW

https://www.howardcountymd.gov/BlandairPark

Report on how the athletic fields are being used

by Michael Blevins, Sports Manager (Howard County Recreation & Park)

https://hocomdcc.files.wordpress.com/2018/10/michael-blevins-report.pdf

Blandair’s next phase has a focus on inclusive play [Excerpts]

by Janene Holzberg (The Baltimore Sun) August 16, 2018

Phase 3 Illustrative Site Plan, Blandair Regional Park  (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR ENLARGED VIEW
Phase 3 existing site, Blandair Regional Park (Harry Schwarz)

A groundbreaking ceremony for the biggest, most expensive — and most inclusive — playground in a Howard County-owned park will take place at 9 a.m. Wednesday [August 22nd] in east Columbia, as development of the third phase of Blandair Regional Park gets underway.

County Recreation and Parks Department officials estimate the $10.9 million project will take 18 months to complete and will open in the late spring or early summer of 2020.

Conceptual illustration of Playground for All, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks/captions by Harry Schwarz)

Nicknamed “Playground for All,” it is the third of seven phases planned for the 300-acre park site over the next decade.

The playground design’s emphasis on special features for all ages and abilities arose from focus groups the county held with community organizations and residents starting in 2013, he said.

Conceptual illustration of Farm Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 0-2 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)
Conceptual illustration of Farm Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 0-2 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)

Instead of 50 percent of the playground equipment being accessible to kids with disabilities — which is the most common formula for accessibility in county parks — that number was increased to 80 percent for Blandair’s playground.

Six color-coded pods will contain themed areas geared toward various sub-groupings of children from 18 months to 12 years, and the entire playground will have perimeter fencing to help contain those who tend to wander. Shade structures, picnic tables and benches will be incorporated into the layout.

Conceptual illustration of Dino Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 2-4 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)
Conceptual illustration of Dino Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 2-4 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)

“This playground has been intentionally designed for special needs kids and the amount of thought and planning that went into it is incredible,” [Beth Benevides, a Marriottsville resident and former president of the Howard County Autism Society’s board of directors] said. “But the features will appeal to all kids of all ages, so we’re flip-flopping things by pushing the mainstream into the special-needs community.”

Conceptual illustration of Space Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 5-12 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)
Conceptual illustration of Space Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 5-12 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)

An Infinity Web climbing apparatus and other planned playground features were also selected for their innovative qualities.

Musical instruments called Free Notes comprise a feature that sensitivity experts say will relieve stress and soothe park patrons. These include cymbals, chimes and drums. Dinosaurs, the farm and outer space are themes of a few as-yet unnamed areas.

Conceptual illustration of Free Notes playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for all ages (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)

This phase of the park will also contain three bocce courts, two croquet courts and two horseshoe pits, so-called “backyard games” that aren’t available in other county park facilities and will likely appeal to seniors, [Raul Delerme, Chief of the bureau of capital projects for the Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks] said.

Delerme said a less flashy but integral feature of Phase III will be construction of a Recreation and Parks Department maintenance facility that will service the entire park. The shop “will give us an even greater presence on-site and that’s important to us,” he said.

To encourage accessibility, the park is connected to downtown Columbia by a paved path and there is a bike rental station in Phase I, Hunter said [Anna Hunter, the department’s public information and marketing director],  and the park has also provided a bus stop on Oakland Mills Road.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/bs-md-ho-blandair-groundbreaking-20180816-story.html

We believe in children of all abilities playing together

Our inclusive playgrounds promote physical, cognitive, learning, visual and hearing experiences that enrich play experiences for all children. We believe everyone deserves the highest level of fun.

Consulting with both child development and inclusive playground experts, we incorporated focus on the complexities and developmental benefits of play to include the specific features children need at each stage of growth. Designing an inclusive playground goes well beyond the ADA’s playground equipment requirements or even designing and building playgrounds with wheelchair accessibility.

Inclusive play means:

  • Creating wide paths between playground equipment so all children can walk or roll between playground equipment
  • Creating surfacing which is easy to use with crutches, wheelchairs and other mobility devices, creating wheelchair accessible playgrounds
  • Creating cozy or quiet spaces for children who may become overwhelmed and may need a quiet space
  • Ensuring that special needs outdoor play equipment isn’t in a separate area, but included with other equipment, allowing children to play together
  • Buying playground equipment that can be used in a number of ways, by everyone.

https://littletikescommercial.com/our-products/commercial-playground-equipment/inclusive-and-accessible-playgrounds/

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Published by

Harry Schwarz

Nicknamed “The Professor” by his colleagues, Harry is a native Marylander who moved to Columbia in 2001. Harry’s wife, Cathy, is a Columbia acupuncturist and the family includes two college-age children, a dog and a cat. Harry is a partner with BearsolutionsLLC, assisting charter school authorizers to provide effective financial oversight. He is underemployed at this time and welcomes conversation about how he might help you.

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