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True to its mission, Conner Prairie’s new Ag Adventures at Estridge Family Park inclusive playground offers patrons a fun-filled experience while teaching history at the same time.

The new outdoor play area has modern equipment that is accessible for all levels of physical and developmental ability, yet it blends into the existing landscape and buildings. Considered to be an exhibit, the 5,000-square-foot space, which took nearly 10 months to build, honors the legacy of the past.

“The playground sits on the spot where Eli Lilly had livestock barns on his fully functioning farm,” says Andrew Bradford, vice president and chief advancement officer at Conner Prairie. “During the 1930s, Lilly diversified his own hobbies and interests as a man. He looked at what the Rockefellers did to preserve Colonial Williamsburg. When Lilly came across the William Conner house on this property, it was in a state of disrepair. Lilly restored it and built Prairie Town.”

Unlimited Play, a nonprofit organization based in St. Louis, built and installed the unique facilities. Ramps are wide enough to accommodate both wheelchairs and those on foot. Audio sounds contribute to the fun – patrons can push a button and hear a cow. A slide equipped with rolling bars creates an opportunity for a sensory experience. Fabricated components such as a silo, tractor and giant corn stalks reaching up to the sky, give the area plenty of visual appeal.

“Every year, close to 125,000 people attend Symphony on the Prairie and bring their children with them,” Bradford says. “We realized many of these children played on the nearby playground without knowing the Conner Prairie story that is just beyond the gates. As plans for a new playground developed, the idea evolved for an inclusive space accessible to all.”

As with all exhibits developed at the museum, decisions for the design were based on the needs of patrons. Input was received from leaders at community partner Behavior Analysis Center for Autism (BACA). Several individuals served by BACA are employed at Conner Prairie.

The approximately $500,000 investment for the project was funded by the Estridge Family Foundation and the Conner Prairie Alliance. The Estridge family has a long history of supporting the museum, and the popular Treetop Outpost exhibit installed in 2015 was a gift from the foundation. The Conner Prairie Alliance is a group of female volunteers who raise money through merchandise sold at the Apple Store. Throughout the past 35 years, proceeds from the store have contributed to major projects.

“The playground is fully accessible for everyone, not just for those with disabilities,” Bradford says. “It’s designed to engage side-by-side play for all ages and abilities. Conner Prairie has the ability to immerse people in a story. The panels surrounding the playground tell the story of the farm that was once there. Eli Lilly said that living-history museums can teach in a way that books can’t. We are carrying on that legacy.”

Conner Prairie is located at 13400 Allisonville Road in Fishers. For more info, call 317-776-6000 and visit connerprairie.org.

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