Seattle's new inclusive park to be made in memory of boy with down syndrome

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The Burke Gilman Playground Park is a short trail walk away from the Reischl house.{ } It's one of the spots that used to echo with laughter from little Eli. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE --The Burke Gilman Playground Park is a short trail walk away from the Reischl house. It's one of the spots that used to echo with laughter from little Eli.

"Eli was such a joy," Eli's mom Paige Reischl said. "He loved people and playing, being outside. He worked so hard and so happily."

Eli was the youngest of three brothers.

"He followed them around and did anything they did," Reischl said. "He just added such a light to our family."

Eli had down syndrome, and it wasn't always easy being different.

"As warm and wonderful as people were, people are still afraid of people who are different than them," she said. "As we traveled through the world, we'd see people meet us with this silence or unsure of what to say."

When Eli died last year from pneumonia complications, Paige found a way to honor him - down that short trail walk from their house.

She wants to transform their neighborhood park so it's more accessible and inclusive.

Right now, the 7-acre park is often empty. The playground sits close to an apartment complex, making it unclear that it's a public space. The grounds get swampy and it sits next to busy Sandpoint Way.

"It's scary if your kid runs off, it's scary to have people's doors, a busy road and a big ravine," Reischl said. "If your kids go over this hill, you can't see them. To have a busy road, especially for families who have kids who run off easily, this place can be scary."

Eli's physical therapist Shawn Rundell is involved, too, with a vision of a park for all ages and abilities.

"A lot of us use our feet to move, but also a lot of us use wheels," Rundell said. "Strollers, bikes, rollers, wheelchairs, walkers. And a lot of use our vision, our hearing, our touch to move around in our environment."

Paige calls her campaign Eli's Park. But it's not about the name. It's about love and laughter and openness - Eli's qualities embedded in the park.

"No, I don't care what this park is called," she said. "I just want people to come here, to have access to play, to nature, and most importantly to each other."

Eli's Park Project has support from Seattle Parks and Recreation, the Seattle Parks Foundation, and the Department of Neighborhoods. It just won matching grant money, putting the project into the planning phase.

A Seattle Parks and Recreation spokesperson said the department is "thrilled to be partnering on the Eli project." It will provide a valuable new space for nature based play and passive spaces for relaxation, designed by users in concert with Seattle Parks and Recreation. The community is amazing, and the idea is unique. The idea of nature based play came from the very large preparatory community planning the park and focus groups.

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