After 11 years of
extensive planning, the dream of a fully inclusive playground became a
reality for one very special girl last year. Courtney’s Sandcastle, part
of a $31.5 million project at the 45-acre Vista Hermosa Sports Park in
San Clemente, Calif., was inspired by Courtney Faye Smith, who is
confined to a wheelchair by spinal muscular atrophy, a rare degenerative
When Courtney was five years old, she and her mother Christina visited
an inclusive playground in Los Angeles. Everything was accessible via
wheelchair: slides with ramps instead of ladders, and swings with large
plastic backs to support children with physical, mental and sensory
challenges. Outdoor recreational areas that provide stimulation for
multiple sensory experiences have proven effective in the healthy growth
of children, especially in the case of those with physical and
At the inclusive
park in Los Angeles, children of all abilities played together in a
space they could enjoy. Finding an accessible playground closer to home
for Courtney to play with her friends was a challenge, and led to the
vision that became Courtney’s Sandcastle.
Design & Installation
Little Tikes Commercial, a leading outdoor play designer, joined with
sales representative Pacific Park and Playground (formerly Pacific
Design Concepts), to design and manufacture the playground equipment.
Their line of castle themed play equipment was a perfect fit for the
sandcastle concept designed by Richard Fisher Associates, an experienced
landscape architecture firm and designer of many premier parks and
playgrounds in Southern California.
With the help of the
San Clemente Junior Woman’s Club, the San Clemente Beaches and Parks
Foundation, and the City of San Clemente, among others, the design and
concept for Courtney’s Sandcastle began to come together. Summers/Murphy
& Partners completed the design for Phase I, and the framework for
the Phase II Sensory Garden. The main play structure is a Little Tikes
KidBuilders® castle themed structure designed for 5-12 year olds,
complete with wide accessible ramps which allow ample space for both
wheelchairs and playmates. The second playground, a Pirate Ship themed
structure, was designed with 2 to 12 year-old children in mind. The
front of the structure offers the distinct look of an authentic ship,
down to the anchor details in the ship’s bow.
Since its debut, Courtney’s Sandcastle has been a favorite spot for
local children. Now 16 years old, Courtney said, “This park is truly a
dream come true, and I’m forever grateful to everyone who helped make
this dream come true!”
Courtney’s Sandcastle Charitable Foundation is currently gathering
funds to build Phase II of the project, which will be a sensory garden.
This phase will include aromatic plants and bushes, a musical pathway,
and several interactive water features, giving children additional
multi-sensory components to explore. Courtney’s vision and hard work not
only gave the local children an amazing place to interact together and
have fun – she has given them hope. Because of Courtney and her family
and friends, children of all walks of life in San Clemente have a place
where they can be kids, and a place where they can all do what they do
To learn more about the Courtney’s Sandcastle project, as well as the Courtney’s Sandcastle Charitable Foundation, visit courtneyssandcastle.org.
To view the digital version of the article in the July 2013 issue of LASN Magazine, click here.