Exploring Cary’s Kids Together Park

If you’ve ever visited Kids Together Park in Cary, you probably had no idea it was designed back in the mid-1990s as a handicap-accessible park. There are no signs touting the park’s handicap-accessible features, no special section with specially designed equipment. That, says one of the adults responsible for the park’s existence, is by design.

“We feel we’ve achieved our goal if no one sees this as a park for kids with disabilities, but rather as just a park,” Marla Dorrel said early yesterday morning. “Our goal was to integrate, not separate.”

The “our” she refers to is Kids Together Inc., the non-profit formed in 1995 to make reality the vision of then 7-year-old Kristin Holcombe and 6-year-old Helen Rittelmeyer. Both had sisters with special needs, both wanted a playground where they could all play together. Thus was formed the non-profit Kids Together Inc., which raised $300,000 toward the construction of the popular playground near Cary Parkway and Tryon Road, which opened in 2000.

Marla Dorrel talks with Katal the Dragon prior to Saturday's Kids Together Family Fun and Fitness Walk.

The urban park is popular with kids of all abilities (and ages) because of its innovation.  There’s Katal the dragon, who snakes his way through a hillside, extensive climbing structures, a variety of swings (from infant, to traditional to chair swings designed for kids with physical challenges), playhouses and your typical playground fare. The park is peppered with original sculpted art (“Botanical Benches” by Baltimore artist Rodney Carroll, Oracle and Dinosaur benches from Greensboro’s Jim Gallucci) and features a hand-picked array of plant life “specially chosen to be child-friendly, with a stimulating variety of colors, textures and fragrances.” Weaving it all together is a flowing path that provides easy access to the entire 16-acre park. It’s a design, created with the help of world-renowned park designer Robin Moore of N.C. State University, intended to let kids make their own adventures.

Those adventures can present themselves in curious ways.

Katal the dragon (pictured at top) bobs in and out of a hillside, it’s various serpentine sections exposed every 10 feet or so. Today, the surface around Katal is a fall-absorbing rubber but in the early days Katal was surrounded by earth. One day, Dorrell, who is Kids Together’s president, noticed a small boy with a pail and shovel determinedly digging at the base of Katal’s neck. Dorrell watched the boy for a couple minutes, then had to ask: “What are you looking for? He told me, ‘I know the rest of the dragon is under here; I’m trying to find him.”

Greensboro sculptor Jim Gallucci's Dinosaur Bench.

Dorrel spoke about the park, which was since been renamed in her honor, Saturday morning prior to her nonprofit’s annual fundraiser, the Kids Together Family Fun and Fitness Walk. (The group continues to play an active role in the park, having raised an additional $15,000 over the past decade for various improvements. Currently, they’re raising funds to build a misting station opposite the dragon.)

The park is a parent’s dream: Kids can entertain themselves here for a morning, an afternoon, or both.

“We wanted to create the kind of environment that doesn’t tell a child what to do,” says Dorrel. “It’s free play. We want to encourage kids to explore.”

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Marla Dorrel / Kids Together Park: To get there, go here.

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