One of Columbia’s coolest playgrounds just got a whole lot more exciting. In May, Leo’s Landing Inclusive Playground at Saluda Shoals Park unveiled a $1.7 million expansion, doubling its acreage and adding some thrilling new play spaces.
Leo’s Landing was inspired by Leo Bugenske, whose parents, Meredith and Adam Bugenske, noticed a need for wheelchair access and inclusive play spaces while walking in the park with their infant son. Now 8 years old, Leo was born with spinal muscular atrophy, which causes weak muscle tone but does not affect cognition.
Leo’s family teamed up with Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission staffers and board members, along with expert members of the community, to brainstorm a wish list for the playground. Their goal was to make a place where people of all ages and abilities can play together unhindered.
Morgan Grimball of Grimball Cotterill Landscape Architects designed the playground, and Contract Construction turned everyone’s dreams into reality. Meredith says the process of creating the playground began when Leo was just over a year old. During the brainstorming sessions, Meredith says, “Leo would read with my mom next door from where we were meeting. Now, he is such a big kid, giving his opinions and insight. I am so proud of him!”
Lexington sculptor Greg Fitzpatrick was selected by the S.C. Arts Commission to create art to highlight the entryway to the park, a wide bridge that rises over a small pond, reminding visitors of the park’s environmental nature. Greg designed 22 steel and glass birds for visitors to see as they cross the bridge.
Since its opening in August 2019, visitors to Leo’s Landing have enjoyed the Treehouse Village, with an assortment of balance challenges, the crawling tunnel and slides in the Hillside Slope, a sound garden full of musical instruments, and the Nature Area, featuring an accessible glider shaped like a riverboat. New features of Leo’s Landing this year include:
Connection Park — a quiet space for reading and relaxing, featuring a hammock park, hobbit village, and a whimsical tree
Mogul Village — an off-trail experience with topography changes to encourage unstructured play
Mogul Outpost — a creative place for people of all abilities to swing together
Zip Krooz — a thrilling two-way zipline with recumbent and disc seats.
Leo is most excited about the new We-Go-Swing, an easily accessible swing that accommodates several people, either standing or seated in wheelchairs. Leo and Meredith heard Jill Moore, an inclusion specialist with Landscape Structures, Inc., speak about the We-Go-Swing, and although it was not part of the finalized design, Leo convinced everyone to add it to Leo’s Landing. His brother, River, age 2, prefers the playhouses, and his sister, Veda Lou, age 4, loves the Zip Krooz.
Saluda Shoals Park is a 480-acre riverfront park. Parking costs $5, but in an effort to make the playground accessible to everyone, the Saluda Shoals Foundation provides annual passes for underserved families through local nonprofit organizations. Leo’s Landing is located at the east entrance of Saluda Shoals Park at 6071 St. Andrews Rd.