StoriesCounty of El Paso and KABOOM! Team Up to ‘Raise The Bar’ for Playspace Equity
The County of El Paso, TX is teaming up with KABOOM! to address inequitable access to recreation and open spaces in six county parks.
Veronica Myers knows there’s important work to do in El Paso County, TX. As a lifelong resident and, for the past three years, director of the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation, she sees firsthand how important parks and playgrounds are to the fabric of the community.
“Because of the pandemic, we’re dealing with an entire generation of kids who have missed out on socializing at the playground,” said Veronica. “My goal is to advocate for kids who don’t have a voice— to change the trajectory of our parks here in El Paso County so we meet the needs of children and families.”
Now, after securing $1.3 million in grant funding from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Veronica and her department are teaming up with KABOOM! to address inequitable access to recreation and open space through a series of major renovations in six El Paso County parks: Agua Dulce, Ascarate, Estrella, Gallegos, Sparks, and Westway.
Over the next five years, KABOOM! and El Paso County will work with communities to update these parks with five Multi-Sport Courts, three Adventure Courses, and two ADA accessible playgrounds, improvements which will bring all county parks up to industry standards.
Proposed Changes to El Paso County parks
Pictured are a few of the changes that might be coming to three of the six parks: Aqua Dulce, Ascarate, and Estrella Parks. Input from the community will be a vital component of the final playspace designs. Click or tap an image to see larger.
Parks Are a Refuge for Stressed Families
It comes as no surprise that parks provided a much-needed refuge for families dealing with stress and isolation during the pandemic, but then Veronica looked at the numbers. “When we looked at park usage during COVID, I was shocked. We saw a 50% increase from pre-pandemic levels. It just underscores how critical these spaces are for residents.”
If park usage was elevated during the pandemic, so was the need for high-quality parks for young children who missed out on learning and socializing at pre-k and on community playgrounds. It’s more important than ever that these kids have high-quality playspaces to help address delays in learning and social skills, two areas where play has a critical role according to pediatric research.
Director Myers sees updating outdated amenities as an equity issue, too. “We want to raise the bar so that no matter your race or income, whether you’re in the city or county, you will have the same access to quality parks and amenities. Parks with high-quality courts and play facilities are often a long drive away for families in El Paso County.”
But perhaps most importantly, these volunteer-powered, community-designed spaces will help foster a sense of belonging and ownership among park users. Myers remembers the excitement and pride sparked by the renovation of Coyote Park in 2018, and is confident that the five upcoming park renovations will serve the same purpose.
El Paso County’s 2018 Renovation of Coyote Park
“This grant will allow us to raise the bar,” said Myers. “Every neighborhood deserves the same amenities. When we work alongside community members to make that happen, they show up to sweat and put the new playground together, but also to celebrate with us.”