Enjoying a ‘Field of Opportunity’ close to home

Walnut Grove
There are a variety of birdhouses scattered among the grasses at The Walnut Grove — Field of Opportunity, increasing the chances of children enjoying a birding expedition. (Julie Geiss photo)

Somehow I managed to make the same mistake twice. I was overzealous about the beautiful spring-like weather and warm sunshine. I loaded my son’s bike into the back of the car, packed a few snacks, and headed for the nearest bike trail.

The only thing predictable about the weather is its ability to change … quickly. Blue skies transitioned to gray when the clouds crowded together. The gentle breeze dropped in temperature.

I had allowed my kids to wear sweatshirts and shorts. Their pale Ohio legs were quickly speckled with goosebumps, and I was chilled to the bone.

They didn’t care about the finicky weather at all; neither did the dog. We were fully committed to our plans regardless of the dropping temps.

There’s a very special place along the MetroParks bikeway in Canfield, Ohio. With an entrance and parking lot along Route 46, The Walnut Grove — Field of Opportunity fills the expanse that used to be empty wetlands between the road and the bike trail. It was once a dream, but now a reality.

All ages and abilities

Walnut Grove
The first phase of The Walnut Grove — Field of Opportunity was completed with the installation of the Hine Memorial Fund Playground. (Julie Geiss photo)

The mission of the non-profit group The Walnut Grove — Field of Opportunity is, “to provide a place where individuals of all ages and abilities can learn through play and enjoy the freedom to interact with their peers.”

Members of the community realized there was a need for an inclusive play area, a place where all children regardless of a diagnosis or limitation could run and play.

Four years ago, after extensive fundraising, the first phase was completed with the installation of the Hine Memorial Fund Playground.

The brightly colored playground stands out for many reasons, not just the colors. It is accessible for all children. It has adaptive equipment like specially designed seats for the swingsets and zip lines. There are no curbs limiting entrances to all the fun. Multi-sensory areas are infused into every section of the playground. Interactive musical displays greet visitors at the entrance with mostly melodic sounds.

There’s also another area specially designed for children ages 2-5 set apart from the more hectic areas. The surface mimics grass and little visitors can learn about healthy food choices while exploring imagination-boosting displays. Kinesthetic awareness is encouraged by several other areas of the playground.

Children can find ways to do typical playground things like run, jump, and climb. In addition, there are adaptive areas for rolling, rocking and gliding for just as much fun and enjoyment. The surface is mainly flat to encourage the movement of children using wheelchairs or crutches. It also has a little spring to it in case a child falls.

Surrounded by trails

The playground is a gem in the middle of the wetlands, but we enjoyed the surrounding area as well. Several trails wind around a small pond. The main trail is paved, but there is a gravel trail to explore the area around the pond.

There are a variety of birdhouses scattered among the grasses, increasing the chances of children enjoying a birding expedition. It was quite a contrast to go from the squeals of the playground to hear the frogs, insects, and birds create a symphony along the trails.

The main trail crosses a bridge before it joins up with the MetroParks Bikeway. It is just over a mile on flat terrain to reach the Mill Creek MetroParks Farm. Bikes are welcome on the paved and gravel trails but are not permitted on the playground. The same limitation is true for dogs as well.

The Walnut Grove — Field of Opportunity is a work in progress. Phase one was completed in the spring of 2018 and phase 2 in the summer of 2019.

Future plans include adding a restroom facility and pavilion when fundraising goals are met. Ideas for the future are limitless and accessibility will always be the main goal.

We ended our trip to Walnut Grove with one last loop on the trails before jumping in the car and cranking up the heat.

With the accessible playground and enticing nature trails, the future is bright and sometimes warm for The Walnut Grove — Field of Opportunity.


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Julie Geiss lives with her husband and four children in Unity Township, Ohio. Faith and family are first in her life, but she also loves hiking, biking and camping. You can contact Julie at juliegeiss1414@gmail.com.



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