Fourteen percent of the student population in Fairfax County Schools has a disability, according to statistics. Our Special Harbor spraypark in Franconia, Va., provides a water-centered recreational opportunity that welcomes local children of all abilities and economic means.
The brightly colored, whimsical, fully accessible complex opened in 2011. All features encourage interaction and stir the imagination. The Chesapeake Bay-themed attractions include a spraying osprey nest, Chessie the Sea Serpent, misting sunflowers, a water maze and spraying cannons. For those wanting gentler play, there is a quiet partially shaded beach with gentle bubblers and water tables.
To accommodate wheelchairs, the skipjack and crab boat features were designed with wide entrances. Wheelchairs that can be used on the spraypark are available for loan at no cost to users.
To ensure order and safety, three or four attendants monitor the complex. Some are trained lifeguards. Their responsibilities include maintaining the facility, providing customer service, promoting safe behaviors and providing first-aid care if necessary.
Recognizing that 24 percent of the local student population qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch, a common indicator of poverty, admission to Our Special Harbor is free.
It was constructed as part of a larger recreation area through a public/private partnership, and the formula has been a hit. After just over a year in existence, summer attendance at the park exceeds 77,000. With the initial success of the spraypark, a larger family recreation area has been developed, which also is barrier-free to accommodate individuals with disabilities.
Designed and built by the Joey Pizzano Memorial Fund, with additional funding provided by the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities under the federal Developmental Disabilities and Bill of Rights Act, Our Special Harbor is operated by the Fairfax County Park Authority. It features a spraypark that’s a zero-water depth facility, which serves as the focal point for a larger Family Recreation Area, including the accessible Tree House and Chessie’s Big Backyard playground, funded by contributions to the Fairfax County Park Foundation.