A Janesville playground that has inspired more than 100 other play places across the country is in desperate need of repairs.
Since it first opened in 1993, at least 1.3 million people have visited Camden Playground. At the time, it was a first-of-its-kind handicap-accessible play area that parks across the country have imitated.
The whole idea revolves around Janesville resident Camden Knutson. A little over 20 years ago, Camden's mother, Sara, said she and her husband were hard-pressed to find a playground where their child with special needs could fit in
"He didn't have anything to play on," Knutson said. "Nothing but real tall slides to go on, no swings to actually grab on to hold and balance himself."
Knutson's husband, along with park co-founder Sherry Kuelz, decided to build a playground themselves by raising money and recruiting volunteers. In May of 1993, Camden Playground opened.
"So he could feel normal," Knutson said. "So disabled children could have some normalcies on the playground. So they could feel alive."
The park was designed with an eye for children with special needs. The walkways are wider, and the swings are more accessible for kids like Camden, and everyone else, too.
"It equals out the community," Knutson said. "It makes disabled children and normal children come together as one, and it makes the community come together as one."
"Before this playground, they were only 40 percent accessible, and after this playground, they were 80 to 100 percent accessible," said Sherry Kuelz, co-founder of the Camden Foundation.
More than two decades later, Camden Park is in need of serious repairs.
"All playgrounds will deteriorate, and this one is starting to deteriorate," Kuelz said. "It also needs to be brought up to current standards for safety, and so we need to rebuild."
Knutson and her family need to raise $350,000 to update the park and its play equipment. The goal is to keep Camden Playground open for all types of children, and for generations to come.
"No matter what your disability is, we're all normal," Knutson said. "We all want to enjoy the same things out of life that everyone else has."
The city of Janesville has agreed to donate $70,000 to the Camden Foundation to help with repairs if the organization can raise $30,000 by 2015. They're well on their way, with more than $15,000 raised so far.
If you would like to donate, an account has been set up at Johnson Bank in Janesville. You can also make a donation at any Johnson Bank in the state, as long as you specify that it is for the Camden Foundation.