Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Groundbreaking Held For Moss Universal Park

First park in county, and perhaps in U.S. that's wholly accessible for people with disabilities.

By - Jul 26th, 2023 05:51 pm

Moss Universal Park groundbreaking. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

A groundbreaking was held Wednesday for a first-of-its-kind park in Milwaukee, and likely the entire nation.

Wisconsin Avenue Park will be redeveloped into a park designed to be accessible to people with disabilities. The project will see everything from the baseball diamonds to the walking trails remade for accessibility for people with disabilities. The groundbreaking was held on the 33rd anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The park is unique in that it is not simply incorporating a few inclusive elements, or constructing just an inclusive playground. The park will be top to bottom redesigned so that it can be enjoyed in its entirety by people with disabilities.

The $10 million project is being led by The Ability Center, a local nonprofit, in partnership with Milwaukee County Parks. The Ability Center is committed to improving accessibility in public spaces and has previously partnered with Parks to install mats at Bradford Beach and provided wheelchairs that roll on the sand.

The project will be developed in two phases. The first phase will include the redevelopment of the clubhouse into a new accessible facility with updated restrooms and caretaker restrooms with changing tables for children and adults, charging stations for mobility devices, along with the development of a universal field with surfacing for wheelchair baseball and softball. The second phase will build out a half-mile accessible path through the park’s woods and a challenge course designed for people of all abilities. The park will be named for the project’s largest benefactor to date, the late philanthropist George F. Moss.

“Moss Universal Park will be a beacon of universal inclusivity, fostering a sense of belonging for individuals of all abilities,” said Guy Smith, executive director of Milwaukee County Parks.

Damian Buchman, The Ability Center executive director, told the large crowd gathered for the groundbreaking Thursday that the project had raised approximately $4.5 million, representing approximately 60% of the cost for the first phase of development. He also announced that the project had just received another $250,000 donation from the Daniel M. Soref Charitable Trust on top of the $100,000 it had previously donated.

Funding to date has also included $500,000 from the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee, $50,000 from the Anon Foundation and $40,000 in individual contributions.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District (MMSD) has committed $1.6 million toward the project. Kevin Shafer, MMSD executive director, said that the project will also be developed with new stormwater infrastructure that will allow it to capture up to 600,000 gallons of water during a storm. Shafer also shared that his son is special needs and said, “Spaces like this are necessary for everyone.”

The groundbreaking was attended by a number of local politicians, including State Rep. Robyn Vining and State Sen. Rob Hutton, who both spoke effusively about the project and Buchman. Hutton shared an anecdote from the 1988 movie Tucker and borrowed a line from it, telling the crowd that most were there Wednesday because, “We got too close to the Ability Center and someone named Damien, and we caught his dream.”

Vining talked about walking Wisconsin Avenue Park with Buchman as he pointed out to her all the ways the park was inaccessible to people with disabilities. “The park didn’t work for everybody,” she said.

The groundbreaking was held on the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Buchman said a park like Moss Universal Park should have been built decades ago. He explained that even when there is an accessible playground it is usually in a larger park that is not accessible. “and why should we limit people with disabilities from accessing the entirety?”

Buchman said that many people in the crowd Wednesday were an inspiration for the park. He pointed to an Ability Center team member who uses a wheelchair and said he wanted him to be able to play with his daughters in a park. He also mentioned a man named Mike Luber who had muscular dystrophy who came to him years ago asking how he could play with his children. “Unfortunately, Mike passed before I could help him play with his kids and I will regret that for the rest of my life.”

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

Categories: MKE County, Parks

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us