Barrier-free playground in Commerce Twp. opens for kids, adults of all abilities

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Commerce -- A unique barrier-free playground with one of the longest ramps in the Midwest to make it accessible for children and adults in wheelchairs opened Friday in Commerce Township, a structure some leaders hope will become the standard for future playgrounds in Michigan.

More than 100 people gathered Friday morning for the long-awaited opening of Scarlet's Playground, located off South Commerce Road in Dodge Park No. 5. It is named after Scarlet Clark, 7, the granddaughter of former WXYZ news anchor and radio host Stephen Clark and his wife, Larenne. Scarlet was born with a condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy that affects her muscle development, forcing her to use a wheelchair.

Kids enjoy the new Scarlet's Playground.

"This is amazing," said Emily Kusiak of Madison Heights, who brought her three children to Friday's opening, including 7-year-old twins Benjamin, who has physical issues, and Madison, who uses a wheelchair. "I'm just thankful for this opportunity and the awareness it brings to the community." 

Kids of all abilities scrambled all over the the 18,000-square-foot playground after a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning. It features a long ramp that leads to the special two-story custom-made play rocket ship in the middle, which was a request by Scarlet. It also has a musical area, accessible merry-go-round, zip-lines, swings and a special rubber surface that was just poured last week.

Scarlet Clark,7, gets a push on the zip line from 
l-r, her grandfather Stephen Clark and mom Hillary Clark.

"It's awesome," said Scarlet, a soon-to-be second-grader, pausing from whipping around the playground in her wheelchair with three friends. "At my school I have to stay on a blacktop part of the playground."

Friday's opening comes more than 4 years after fundraising started for the playground. Larenne Clark said they raised $1 million to bring it to life.

A number of obstacles delayed the playground's completion, so many that it became a joke in the Clark household about what would hit the project next. An early winter stopped construction last fall. Then all playgrounds were shut down in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic -- Oakland County lifted its closures on playgrounds this week -- and a vandal, who has since been arrested, also damaged the playground two weeks ago. Repairs have already been made.

Scarlet Clark, 7, cuts the ribbon to open the park with the help of her mom Hillary.

"We started joking, 'Is a meteor going to fall on us next'?" said Larenne.

But by Friday, Larenne said Scarlet was so thrilled about the opening -- an official grand opening to thank donors will be held later; a bathroom facility also will be constructed -- "she couldn't even sleep last night," she said. 

"She was so excited," said Clark.

Larenne said unlike other playgrounds in Metro Detroit that may have ramps that then lead to steps, which puts "it off limits" for those in wheelchairs, Scarlet's Playground is different.

"We ramped the entire structure," said Larenne. "It's the biggest ramped playground in the Midwest."

Several contractors, including Ideal Construction in Detroit, donated their services to clear the area where the playground was installed, level the site and put together the play equipment. Commerce Township donated the land.

Commerce Township Supervisor David Scott said Scarlet's playground is where all children can play "side by side." 

"No one is pushed off to the side," he said. "This is a playground that every playground in Michigan should be modeled after."

Stephen Clark said the playground may just be the start. He said they may also pursue installing a splash pad nearby.

Scarlet's Playground

  • Located off South Commerce Road at Commerce Road in Dodge Park No. 5 in Commerce Township.
  • Features an accessible play structure with ramps; slides; swings; and a zip-line for kids and adults of all abilities.
  • A trail also leads to the park from the Commerce Township Library.