It’s difficult to imagine the number of vintage home movies, Polaroids and smartphone snaps that feature Blackberry Farm in the backdrop. To be sure, the Fox Valley Park District’s 50-year-old living history museum has produced lasting memories for generations of families across the district – and well beyond.
Ready? Say cheese!
Because it’s about to generate even more smiles.
Blackberry’s popular hayride attraction can now consider itself all-inclusive, thanks to members of the FVPD Operations West Maintenance team, who designed and built a hay wagon that’s both wheelchair-accessible and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Believed to be the country’s first of its kind, the wagon features a side-loading, hydraulic lift and four chair anchors fastened to the floor of its bed. Wooden benches surround the front of the bed, allowing companions of wheelchair-bound individuals to accompany their riders.
The wagon also allows normal operation for accessible patrons via the rear staircase, noted John Kramer, the FVPD’s director of park operations.
“This project was made entirely possible by the collaboration and innovation of the Operations staff,” Kramer said.
The project was the brainchild of Jimmy Schmidt, West Maintenance supervisor, who identified an underutilized chairlift elsewhere in the district and pitched the idea of creating an ADA-compliant wagon at Blackberry. Schmidt led a team of seven operations/maintenance staff, and his crew completed the design and build of the wagon in about 10 weeks – with everything, from start to finish, accomplished in-house.
“I’ve done a lot of work with special-needs groups over the years,” Schmidt said. “One thing that really got me going with the lift idea is that I know it would be so rewarding for disabled individuals to enjoy the hayride just like anyone else. And kids, especially, are just ecstatic when they’re included. Even if they’re non-verbal, you can still see and feel their excitement.”
Schmidt and his team are hosting a group of local, special-needs organizations on Thursday, Sept. 26, at Blackberry, where the ADA-compliant wagon will officially be unveiled. The wagon is expected to be in full operation when Blackberry’s annual Pumpkin Weekends begin on Saturday, Oct. 5.
In 2017, the FVPD purchased an ADA-accessible wheelchair ramp for Blackberry’s train, and district officials plan to accommodate an accessible chair space on the carousel, as well as a similar experience at the pony ride ring in the coming years, said Kramer.
“I have tasked Operations with providing as many ADA-accessible amenities as possible at Blackberry Farm,” he said. “And staff continues to deliver.”