The story of Mika’s Playground
Mika Zimbalist loved being outside and playing with his friends. His wheelchair, however, limited what he could do at the playground.
“When he was little, the swing was definitely his favorite thing to do,” says Mika’s mom, Mumtaz Zimbalist. “As he got older, he just liked cruising around the playground with his friends, and being able to walk and wheel through it.”
But the wood chips would get stuck in his wheels and slow him down. And as he got bigger, he couldn’t sit with his dad in the swing anymore. Transfers onto playground equipment got harder.
Mika was born with cerebral palsy and used wheelchairs and walkers. The Zimbalist family of Bothell was inspired to create a playground that would benefit kids like Mika.
Mika is the inspiration for the eponymous playground at the new Civic Center Playfields in Edmonds. Mika’s Playground is designed so kids of all abilities can enjoy being outside and playing together. The playground, four years in the making, opened in June.
No wood chips here. Instead, there’s rubber surfacing, a wheelchair-accessible rumble path and artificial turf where wheels don’t get stuck. There’s a merry-go-round flush with the ground, the integration carousel, with space for two wheelchairs.
We watched kids on balance bikes use the wave walk as a mini-roller coaster. Adults relaxed at the picnic table, which has wheelchair-accessible seating space.
Instead of stairs, there’s a crescent-shaped concrete path that curves up to the slide. The slide is extra wide, so kids can go down with someone. At the base of the slide, there are net climbers close to the ground.
There’s a pea gravel pit with two diggers, one wheelchair accessible. Next to it is a sensory garden with a maze of smooth wood poles and chimes that are fun to weave in and out of. (“There’s already gravel on it,” one parent noticed. Kids.)
More inclusive parks: Mika-inspired
Mika died unexpectedly in February 2019, a few days before his 11th birthday. “After my son passed away, I was in a bad spot, as you can imagine,” Mumtaz says. “We were thinking, how can we channel our energy into something positive? I had this idea, I wish parks were more inclusive. I want to build a park for Mika, in Mika’s name.”
Mumtaz set about calling the parks and recreation departments of nearby cities. The City of Edmonds had a new playground in the pipeline already and when she told them her story, the city was completely on board.
The city didn’t quite have enough money budgeted to make the playground inclusive, so the parks department reached out to the Rotary Club to fundraise for additional costs. Together, the Rotary Club and the City of Edmonds raised $500,000 to buy specialized equipment. Ground broke in August 2020, and the playground’s grand opening celebration was held in June.
Play for everyone
“My goal is it becomes a place where all types of kids can play together,” Mumtaz says. Mumtaz helped fundraise for Mika’s Playground, and met with the architect about wheelchair-accessible features. She plans to try to create a foundation that helps build other inclusive playgrounds around Washington.
Mika had a lot of doctors, therapies, and surgeries in his life and worked through a lot of pain, Mumtaz says. He was a non-verbal child but communicated effectively through his smile and vocalizations.
“I think the thing about Mika, when people would meet Mika, they would always comment to us about his smile,” Mumtaz says. “He had a funny personality and a lot of things made him laugh. When he passed away, it was incredible to us the number of people who came up to us and said, ‘Mika was my best friend, Mika made such an impact on me.’
“He was a super, super brave kid that managed to have a smile for anybody who needed it.”
Elsewhere in the park
Mika’s Playground is located on the east side of the 8-acre Civic Center Playfields. Years ago, the site was the high school’s football field and track.
The City of Edmonds leased the park for 40 years from the Edmonds School District, then bought the land eight years ago for $1.9 million. The renovation project cost $13.7 million.
In addition to the inclusive playground, the park features a skate park, an athletic field, sports courts, petanque courts and a peekaboo view of the Olympic Mountains. Six single-stall restrooms are located next to the plaza. There’s a walking trail with exercise stations around the park.
Also in Edmonds
Edmonds’ first inclusive playground, Seaview Park, opened in 2019. It was also inspired by a neighborhood boy with cerebral palsy. The playground features a climbing fort for tots and preschoolers, and a giant rope climbing gym for elementary school-age kids.
Bring your swimsuits! Hazel Miller Spray Park at City Park in Edmonds is just five minutes away from Civic Center Playfields. Spray park hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. It has a giant green bucket that tips over when it’s full and the kids go nuts! There’s also a gentler water side for the not-so-adventurous, and a terrific playground right next to the spray park. There are tall trees with shade in the large picnic area, park restrooms and two parking lots.
If you go:
Mika’s Playground in Civic Park Playfields is located at 598 Edmonds Street, Edmonds
Note: Don’t be fooled by Google; the map shows an open field and the street view shows a jumble of construction. The new public space is finished and amazing.