Move Yer Booty

Expansive new San Antonio park sets sail with inclusive playground

Expansive new San Antonio park sets sail with inclusive playground

A rendering of a pirate-themed playground.
A landmark playground built for inclusivity and well-rounded play celebrates the memory of Mitchell Chang at the new Classen-Steubing Ranch Park. Rendering courtesy of GameTime

“New park” might be a stretch for something that’s already been in the works for years, but that’s what San Antonio will be getting soon. City officials aim to have the first phase of Classen-Steubing Ranch Park open to the public as early as the end of summer 2022.

Funds for these primary developments came from the 2017 city bond program, although some development funding came from Marvin and April Chang, who lost their 3-year-old, Mitchell, to drowning in 2018. The Changs' funding spurred many other contributions over time. They are donating the playground equipment and safety ground cover, along with covering installation costs, while the city manages infrastructure around the playground and through the rest of the park.

"Personally, [I think] the park feels peaceful and like untouched Texas," Chang wrote to CultureMap. "This is how the meadows around San Antonio looked 100 years ago. It is natural Texas in its simplest but most beautiful form."

A playground dubbed Mitchell’s Landing is the main attraction, an expansive themed space that honors Mitchell’s love of pirates and invites all kids for “inclusive play” on a pirate ship, a “thick marsh” and “abandoned Spanish Mission." The playground’s website shares that it is designated a National Demonstration Site by PlayCore, a playground equipment company running initiatives to promote “evidence-based best practices” for play as an educational and community-building practice.

The list of 19 toys, activities, and accessibility considerations on the playground span physical and emotional needs, addressing overstimulation as well as seeking to entertain or teach. A merry-go-round structure is built into the safety ground cover to allow wheels to roll safely on, and "zero gravity expression swings" come in a regular swing shape and one with a higher back for better torso support. Another circular swing projects colors onto the ground for added sensory stimulation, and a "sensory cove climber" provides a small safe space for kids feeling overstimulated, without having to leave the playground.

These play structures were mostly developed by GameTime, a playground equipment supplier, including a brand-new slide design with a safety transition bench. The city also gave input on what it could afford and maintain into the future. But the most meaningful designs came from Mitchell's older brother, Evan, who contributed a beach design and a hammock swing.

Outside Mitchell's Landing, the park will also feature an open play field, two pavilions, an education center with a view, three baseball fields, and a concrete path leaving large areas untouched. The paths will connect with trails through the neighboring Stone Oak Park. Although the entire property spans 204 acres, the developed space is contained to 43 acres.

Park renovations have been thanks to collaboration between a dizzying list of local officials, private citizens, existing conditions both natural and man-made, and family ideals.