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San Clemente Journal

Courtney’s Sandcastle Adds Sensory Garden

Mar 03, 2015 10:36AM ● By Bill Thomas
by Bill Thomas, photos by Tyler Kindred

The first day of spring, Sunday, March 21, at 10 am the Sensory Garden addition to Courtney’s Sandcastle will open. The Courtney Sandcastle Charitable Foundation is planning the initial celebration, and children and adults of San Clemente, including donors and tile contributors, as well as those involved in its creation, are invited.  Mina Santoro, President of the Charitable Foundation and Courtney Smith, for whom the Playground is named will be among the greeters.
Aeryn Donnelly, the City’s park planning guru who had a great deal to do with the design, bidding, and construction of the new garden wrote a welcoming statement: “Courtney’s Sandcastle Sensory Garden is Universally Accessible for children and adults of all ages and abilities and will provide a respite for children with special needs, as well as an opportunity to stimulate their senses in a unique setting within the City of San Clemente.”

Recreation Manager Pam Passow, who’s in charge of the Vista Hermosa Sports Park, where Courtney’s is located, added her valuable welcome to the new Garden: “We’re looking forward to the opening of the Sensory Garden in Courtney’s Sandcastle. We feel this is an ideal location for those of all ages and abilities to play in an environment that touches the senses. They will be able to smell, touch, taste, hear, and see while playing with their many new friends in the Sensory Garden. We’re thankful to the community which has stepped forward to make this dream a reality, especially the Courtney’s Sandcastle Charitable Foundation. Without them, this would still be a dream. We would also like to thank the Friends of San Clemente Foundation and the San Clemente Beaches, Parks, and Recreation Commission for starting the ball rolling years ago and the many community groups and individuals who’ve donated time, money, plants, trees and other elements to help bring this wonderful jewel to our City. We’ll continue to work with Capistrano Unified School District to bring special needs children to our Universally Accessible playground and the new Sensory Garden, as well as to look for other opportunities to share knowledge and programs with the community. See you at the Park!”

Councilwoman Lori Donchak, also a member of Playground’s board of directors, has been very successful in obtaining grants for the Sensory Garden totaling $140,000. Those she’s collected include: McBeth Foundation - $50,000, Frank M. & Gertrude R. Doyle Foundation, Inc. - $30,000, Southern California Edison - $16,000, O.L. Halsell Foundation - $10,000, American Academy of Dermatology - $8,000 towards shade structure,  Dhont Family Foundation - $2,500, and Southern California Gas Company - $1,000. The City of San Clemente and the San Clemente Friends Foundation have also made contributions. 

Eighteen-year-old Courtney Smith, who has never been out of her wheelchair except when sleeping, came up with the idea of a special place where both able and disabled children could play when she was four-years-old. After visiting a playground devoted to such purposes in Los Angeles, she asked her mom, Christina, why there wasn’t such a place near where she lived. Christina took up the question with the then City Beaches, Parks & Recreation (BPR) Director, Bruce Wegner. He followed up with the City’s BPR Commission, and, after gaining their approval, approached the City Council, where he gained further support. 
Starting as a sub-committee of the Parks Commission, and later a sub-committee of the Friends of San Clemente Beaches Parks & Recreation Foundation, the Courtney’s Sandcastle Charitable Foundation became its own reality in 2011.

When asked what she thought of the opening of the new addition to her playground, the San Clemente High School senior responded, “The Sensory Garden meets all of my expectations. It is absolutely gorgeous, and the amazing detail that went into it is more than I could ever have asked for.”

The major special sensory elements of the Garden include a Shade Structure with an Outdoor Learning Area, a Concrete Accessible Path of Travel with Musical Elements, an Accessible Telescope and a Wind Sculpture, a Tidal Pool Water Feature that was custom created by West Coast Rockscapes and a Granite Ball Water feature that was installed with a generous donation by Capistrano Cranes. Repurposed interlocking pavers, light poles, trees donated by Bemus Landscape, Inc. and the San Clemente Tree Foundation (planted by Saddleback horticulture students led by Rod’s Tree Service), raised planter boxes, 700 plants donated by Plant Depot, park Benches and trellises to provide additional seating and shade are also included. Don Glasgow and Patricia Holloway have also been active in providing various elements for the Garden. 

The City’s Director of Beaches, Parks, and Recreation, Sharon Heider, has been a guiding principal in the evolution of Courtney’s Sandcastle. She and her staff are already planning future education activities including scavenger hunts, garden care and planting, and special recreational programs for special needs children. Courtney’s Sandcastle Playground has become a model for other California cities to follow. 

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