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A Park Above is Age, Disability and Family Friendly

By Kelly Church

A nearly eight-year project, A Park Above is Rio Rancho, NM's new community park with playground equipment that can be used by anybody, even those with disabilities. The park is completely wheelchair accessible, includes wheelchair swings, has 13 structures that provide shade, self-closing gates, tons of parking, and even instruments and workout equipment. The park is the brainchild of founder Jennie Schulte Riedl.

Riedl joined the Rio Rancho Rotary in 2008 as Community Chair and spent three months coming up with a community project that she thought would benefit residents. It wasn't until she flew to Lakeland, FL to visit a friend that the idea of a new park came to her. She saw a recently newly opened park there and said it gave her chills the second she stepped on the grounds. Upon returning to Rio Rancho, she met with the Parks and Recreation Director and after a long meeting, he sent her off with blueprints and a simple statement, "Go make one!"

"[I] thought I was holding gold," Riedl said. "With the help of Rotary, I set up a 501C3, bylaws, articles of incorporation, set up a board of officers and board of advisors, [and] held events that touched all segments of the community to raise funds for this all-inclusive park."

Children were the first to break ground at the park, holding golden shovels to officially start the construction process. After years of meetings, building, fundraising and promoting the park, the official ribbon cutting ceremony was in May 2016. After being open for one year, Riedl called the park a major success, giving community members of all ages and physical abilities the opportunity to enjoy the park's offerings. More than 2,000 visitors come to the park each week to play, host parties and events, exercise and enjoy the atmosphere.

"The only time I have heard a child cry is when the parents are taking them home," Riedl said. "A Park Above is filled with positive energy and fun."

Much of the park is the result of community donations and efforts. Riedl said many groups and businesses donated their time, money and equipment to help put the park together. Community park days were hosted so anybody could come and plant flowers, pick up trash and more.

"It was important for the community to be involved and to own A Park Above," Riedl said. "You can see all the helpers on the wall at A Park Above."

To help maintain the park and ensure it's not a financial burden to the city, Riedl said there are three eight-foot columns at the park called Friendship Destination. The purpose of Friendship Destination is to allow community members to purchase granite stones that help support the park. Stones cost $150 and are engraved with a butterfly and the name of the sponsor. To support A Park Above, a donation form can be found online at aparkabove.org.

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