Long-awaited Harper's Playground opens Saturday

Long-awaited Harper's Playground opens Saturday
Harper Goldberg, center, poses with her mother, April Goldberg, her sister, Lennon (left) and construction workers at Harper's Playground. Photo courtesy Cody Goldberg and Portland Parks & Recreation.

Harper's Playground on Facebook

PORTLAND, Ore. - A three-year project that started with a parents' dream that their little girl would one day be able to play with all the other kids has now come full circle.

Harper's Playground at Arbor Lodge Park in North Portland will officially open to the public this weekend.

What's special about this particular playground is that it is specifically designed so that all kids, whether they have a disability or not, can play together.

"It truly is a barrier free, universally designed space entirely," said Cody Goldberg. The park is named after his 7-year-old daughter, Harper, who suffers from a rare condition called Emanuel Syndrome.

Harper has been the inspiration behind the project all along. She loves to spend time at Arbor Lodge Park, but her mobility is limited. That means she has had to sit on the sidelines and watch while the other kids were swinging, climbing and laughing together.

Although Harper does not speak and it's sometimes hard to judge her reaction to things, you can imagine how that would feel to a child - no one likes to be left out. And then think about how heartbreaking it is for parents to see that happen.

Harper's mom and dad decided it didn't have to be that way for their little girl. And so the idea to create Harper's Playground was born.

But how do you go from an idea to reality?

Ask the Goldbergs and they'll tell you it's not easy. But if you have heart, it can be done.

"As soon as you believe you can, then you are halfway there," Goldberg said when he asked him what advice he would have for others who might be thinking of making a positive change in their community but aren't sure that they can do it. "It starts with believing."

The family raised money at first with bake sales, rummage sales and neighborhood kids' concerts. They also worked hard to get their voices heard and once word got out about what they were trying to accomplish, businesses and other notable partners, like the Timbers Army, the University of Portland Pilots, the City of Portland, the Portland Development Commission and the W. Glen Boyd Charitable Foundation, stepped up to help them - and in a huge way. Each of them donated tens of thousands of dollars to the cause.

That big name support also helped bring in help from throughout the community. When it was all said and done, the efforts  brought in around $500,000 in funding and $500,000 of in-kind donations.

This weekend, those who came together to make Harper's Playground a reality will celebrate their hard work at a grand opening celebration. All are invited to stop by for the party, which is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Saturday. And once the ribbon is cut, the playground will open up to the public.

The new playground features things like a water play sand table where kids can play with wet sand, two adaptive swings, lots of accessible bronze sculpture features and much more.

"It feels more like a plaza," Goldberg said. "Like a central plaza with a town square. It's totally unique with lots of interesting custom features."

The Goldberg family will be there and they are hoping that once Harper gets a chance to start playing, she'll really like it.

"She's non-verbal, so we're not positive what she thinks about all of this," Goldberg said. "The proof will be in the pudding when she starts playing there this weekend."

If you think this is a great thing for the city and would like to see something like it in your neighborhood, just wait - the Goldbergs are hoping that what they and the community were able to accomplish can be replicated at other parks throughout Portland. Goldberg even hinted that there might be some news on that front at the grand opening this weekend, so stay tuned.