January 26, 2021

GameTime Park in Illinois Recognized as Five National Demonstration Sites

Playcore’s National Demonstration Site Network recognizes communities that promote physical activity, inclusion, and nature-infused play through their parks. One city has gone above and beyond in demonstrating leadership in these areas.

The Gerald R. Bennett Park in Palos Hills, Illinois, will be the first playground in the United States to receive ALL FIVE National Demonstration Site Designations at a single site:

  • Inclusive Play
  • Playful Pathways
  • Nature Play
  • Outdoor Adult Fitness
  • Youth Physical Activity

Rendering of the planned inclusive playground at Bennett Park in Palos Hills, Illinois


The park’s namesake, Mayor Gerald Bennett, has served as the city’s mayor for 40 years. He is an avid supporter of inclusive outdoor recreation and thoughtful design. Bennett wanted this park to be a destination for everyone in the city to play together. 

"The City of Palos Hills is excited and honored to be recognized by PlayCore for having all five National Demonstration Site designations, the first in the nation to receive all five at a single park,” says Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett. “We are also grateful to the State of Illinois, Illinois Parks, and Recreation Association, and GameTime for providing $425,000 in grants to make this dream happen."

National Demonstration Site for Inclusive Play

One of the main priorities for this playground was creating a space that was inclusive and fun. Cunningham Recreation, GameTime's exclusive representative in Illinois, designed the play area with a focus on accessibility for people with physical disabilities. Designers took inclusion further by incorporating the Seven Principles of Inclusive Playground Design. 

The Seven Principles are outlined in the Me2® guidebook - a comprehensive inclusive design guide published by PlayCore and Utah State University Center for Persons with Disabilities. GameTime and Cunningham Recreation leveraged those principles by selecting playground equipment that addressed the needs of the whole child, including sensory play products. The goal was to ensure children of all abilities enjoy the benefits of inclusive play. 

“Out of a thousand kids aged 2-12, eighty-five of them have some disability, but only one of that eighty-six uses a wheelchair or mobility device,” says Gavin Coll, Cunningham Recreation Sales Associate. “Millions of children are affected by some form of disability that is not mobility-based. We design playgrounds with that in mind.”

One of the products Coll included in his design was GameTime’s Sensory Wave Climber®. Sensory Wave provides users with a valuable sensory experience by combining physical movement with visual, tactile, and auditory stimulation. 

Making Physical Activity Fun

In addition to being a fully inclusive playground, Bennett Park will feature many spaces where families can exercise together. The playground itself was designed to be an outdoor play environment that aligns with national standards for youth physical activity. That's why it received the NDS designation for Youth Physical Activity. This designation is given to playgrounds that incorporate the research and activities found in PlayOn!, a standards-based curriculum created by PlayCore in partnership with SHAPE America.

Play On! playgrounds like this one include play equipment that’s so fun that children can’t help but be physically active. In fact, researchers at Western Michigan University evaluated local schools that incorporated the Play On! program into their playgrounds, and they found that:

  • 91% of teachers reported that playground use increased
  • 90% of teachers plan to use the program in the future
  • 100% of students reported having fun engaging in the activities
  • 90-100% of teachers reported that PlayOn! motivated students to participate in regular, enjoyable, physical activity in a safe and supervised environment

Keeping Adults Active with Outdoor Fitness

Gerald R. Bennett Park isn’t just a destination for youth physical fitness either. The park also features outdoor fitness elements that adults can use, such as the THRIVE 450 functional fitness trainer. With the combination of outdoor fitness equipment and research-based design. The park received a third NDS designation for outdoor adult fitness. 

Once Spring arrives, this and many other fitness areas throughout Bennett Park will be ready for adults to stay active outdoors.


Adult obesity rates in the U.S. have grown rapidly in the U.S. since 2000, skyrocketing from 30.5% in 1999 to 42.4% in 2017. Childhood obesity also impacts over 18% of children aged 2-19 years. These shocking numbers underscore the importance of providing spaces where children and adults alike can exercise. With more and more communities encouraging physical activity through play, we can fight the obesity dilemma together. 

Embracing Nature and Nature-Based Play

Not only does this park include a fully-inclusive playground and exercise areas for both children and adults, but it also features multiple elements geared toward nature-lovers. The final two NDS designations received by this park are for nature-based play and trail-based play because the park includes designs based on the best practices in NatureGrounds®.

Created in conjunction with the Natural Learning Initiative, NatureGrounds provides best practice guidelines for integrating manufactured play equipment with the natural landscape. Bennett Park utilizes local plant species and nature-themed play equipment to create an area that is both environmentally sustainable and fun!

One of the many play pockets under construction along the PlayTrail at Bennett Park. 


Similarly, the final NDS designation for trail-based play is awarded to parks that combine nature-themed play pieces with trails and greenways. Along the trail in Bennett Park, you can find play pockets with educational signage focused on the natural landscape and wildlife. The PlayTrail is designed using the research and resources found in Pathways for Play®. The playful path at Bennett Park includes Gametime elements that encourage both education and physical activity.

Funding the Playground Project

Creating a signature play destination like Gerald R. Bennett Park requires significant funding. There are plenty of funding opportunities nationwide for park and playground projects like this. The Palos Hills Parks Department took advantage of these opportunities, including grant funds awarded as part of the Illinois Parks and Recreation Statewide Education and Funding Initiative

GameTime also offers online tools like the GameTime Playground Funding Guide to help you find the grant that’s best for you. For example, the Open Space & Land Acquisition Development (OSLAD) Grant was integral in completing the Gerald Bennett Park, and it can be found in our helpful guide along with over 300 other potential funding opportunities. 

“These OSLAD grants have funded some wonderful projects in Illinois, so we’re fortunate that this money is available,” says Palos Hills Recreation Commissioner Kristin Violante.

Bring a National Demonstration Site Playground to your Community

Many parks offer something for everyone, but Gerald R. Bennett Park is perhaps the best example of a comprehensive park experience. The rare combination of inclusive design, physical activity for people of all ages, nature-based play, and trail-based play has made Bennett Park the first park in the ENTIRE COUNTRY to receive all five NDS designations. GameTime commends Cunningham Recreation and the Palos Hills Parks Department for their commitment to turning research into practice.

If you would like to bring a playground with evidence-based best practices to your neighborhood, GameTime is here to help. To learn more about the NDS Network, funding a project, and everything in between, contact your local GameTime representative today.