FAQs about Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto, CA
Yes, we opened the gates of the Magical Bridge Playground on Saturday, April 18, 2015.
The park is open every day, including holidays from 8 AM – 10 PM.
No. Thanks to the many generous donors (like you!) we are thrilled that it’s FREE now!
We love seeing families using the Magical Bridge as a place of celebration and, unlike other parks that do charge for a reservation, we are free! Being free also means that there is no formal reservation system other than to show up, and secure one of the 4 large tables provided for picnics and parties. Please note, the space for these celebrations is on the large grassy-area, near the tennis courts. To enter, best access is to park at the back of 3864 Middlefield Road and come through that gate. Each of these 4 tables comfortably sits about 14 adults and is wheelchair-friendly. In addition to the tables, the grass is a beautiful area to enjoy games, food and have a magical time.
We emphatically ask that you do 2 things:
- Please not bring your large parties and groups to the playhouse/stage area, where we have 3 small round tables. These are designated for small group gatherings or places parents can offer their kids a snack, not for a big party setting (with the mess that comes with it….sorry).
- Please clean up after yourselves.
We appreciate your sense of responsibility and hope to continue offering the use of the park at no charge. Many of our guests travel from far and wide to be able to host a birthday for a child who, because of a disability, was previously unable to enjoy the use of an outdoor space. It is our sincere hope that every guest to the playground cherishes it as we all do. We want to be able to keep the admission free and to rely on you to help keep it magical for years to come!
We love dogs but, other than service dogs, we kindly ask that you not bring them inside our play zones. Since there is no natural grass for them to “take care of business,” we hope you understand.
Yes. The Magical Bridge Playground is a project of The Friends of the Palo Alto Parks, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, serving Palo Alto parks and open spaces since 2004.
On average, 11% of each community’s population is living with some kind of disability. Palo Alto has a little over 10,000 individuals who are disabled.
Olenka Villarreal is the founder and brainchild behind the Magical Bridge Playground. Her vision for this project began when she discovered her younger daughter, Ava, had both developmental and physical challenges. She learned that vestibular movement, such as swinging, would benefit Ava, but her limited upper body strength made holding the swing chains impossible. It wasn’t long before Olenka discovered that her hometown of Palo Alto could not provide the most basic aspects of play for her daughter. Olenka wondered where all of the other kids with different abilities were playing? After extensive outreach and research, she was amazed to discover that, despite Palo Alto’s good intentions, not one of its public parks was truly accessible.
Of the 34 existing public parks in Palo Alto today, not one has been built with everyone’s unique physical and cognitive needs in mind. Most playgrounds have generic ramp and platform designs, which do not consider the needs of those with autism, sensory and cognitive issues, visual limitations and even the needs of our older adults. In short, we built a community playground for the many kinds of people in our community.
When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990, it mandated that public spaces be accessible to wheelchair users. When we discovered that only 10% of the disabled population are wheelchair users, we knew we had to exceed ADA standards! Who would create a safe and fun place to address all the other disabilities PLUS everyone else? The Magical Bridge Playground, of course!
The City of Palo Alto generously provided the land, staff and funding for our initial architect plans. The Friends of the Magical Bridge did all the research, worked with inclusion experts, created the final design and secured funding for the park. Because of this unique arrangement, the Magical Bridge Playground was designed exactly to meet and exceed the needs of our wonderful community. Since the playground opened in April of 2015, the City of Palo Alto is now responsible to maintain it as one of its public (and busiest!) parks.
The playground is located inside Mitchell Park, at 600 East Meadow Drive in Palo Alto. It is adjacent to Abilities United and close to the Mitchell Park Community Center and Library and the wonderful Ada’s Café.
For closest parking access, our friends at Abilities United have kindly allowed the use of their back parking lot, with an entry at 3864 Middlefield Road. Please be mindful that we are their guests and that you park only in the back areas closest to the fence, and not in the front of their building.
Definitely! We were passionate about creating a place, which would be exhilarating, challenging, and fun for everyone! A playground is the perfect place to to break down traditional barriers of inclusion and focus on acceptance of all those who live among us.
In a word, no.
What started as a quest to build Palo Alto’s first “ADA-compliant” playground, turned into some soul searching to determine the kind of playground Magical Bridge ultimately would become. When we learned that the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 had not updated it’s playground requirements, we knew the ADA bar was (way) too low. This led us to start marketing Magical Bridge as “beyond ADA” and “accessible,” but weren’t sure these were the right terms either. How could we describe this place we envisioned?
Astounding to think a group of Silicon Valley parents were designing a playground that had no existing category. We knew we were inclusive, accessive and way beyond ADA. We also knew we were designing the coolest park our own kids had ever been to, but our driving passion was to ensure kids and parents of varying cognitive and physical abilities played as equals. In fact, this playground had to reflect the unique needs of everyone in our community. We were never a “special needs” park because, after all, how kind would it be to create this magical space and not invite our “typical” friends in too?
- A 2-story fully wheelchair-accessible playhouse and small theater;
- A kid-friendly, wheelchair-inclusive stage ready to welcome visitors of any talent and ability!
- A magical treewalk that takes visitors through the trees as never before;
- Retreat areas throughout the playground for children with autism that get over-stimulated by traditional park experiences;
- Socially inclusive playground zones, specifically designed to make the park easy to navigate;
- Interactive music experiences to excite all musical interests and abilities;
- A “Kindness Corner” to ensure that our kids know that bullying has no place here, and will serve as a powerful reminder to be kind to those around us.
Our location is truly part of a magical corner! With Abilities United sharing its property fence with us, we are able to extend their recreational reach to the 4,000 families they serve. We enjoy engaging the many individuals who attend Abilities United by helping with plant maintenance, community programs and working with Ada’s Café Cart! With Ada’s Café at Mitchell Park Community Center, visitors to the playground will enjoy Ada’s delectable goodies through a cart which will pass through the playground, managed by disabled individuals and volunteers. Ada’s Cafe
Absolutely! We have been so delighted and moved by the children in our community. Girl Scout Troops, elementary school children and teens have hosted bake sales, book sales, community events and much more. We enjoy speaking to your schools, religious institutions and community meetings as a way to continue spreading the word about magical inclusion and how KIDS can make a difference in their communities. Contact Jill Asher at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to include your students in a project for the Magical Bridge Playground.
Absolutely! Our Kindness Ambassador program is all year long and teens love getting their community services hours this way, and we love having them.