KATAL and Kids Together Playground: Inspiring Community and Togetherness in Cary
By: Jessica Patrick
The Kids Together Playground at Marla Dorrel Park in Cary, NC is full of distinctive features and personalized embellishments. In addition to its play space built for children of all ages and physical abilities, the playground is also home to numerous pieces of art—including a large dragon that has since become a cherished part of Cary Visual Art’s permanent placement program and a recognizable feature of Kids Together.
This lovable dragon, also known as KATAL, was commissioned and placed by Cary Visual Art in 2000. Children of all ages enjoy climbing on KATAL or snuggling in the curl of his tail. The dragon has become such a recognizable feature of the playground that many children have come to refer to Kids Together as “The Dragon Park.” Constructed by artist William Moore, the sculpture is made of steel pipe, hardware cloth, reinforcing bar, and acrylic strengthened cement. Although KATAL’s structural make-up may sound harsh, the dragon is anything but. KATAL’s name is an acronym for “Kids Are Together At Last”—a phrase that reflects the purpose and mission of the entire playground.
Kids Together was formed through a partnership between the Town of Cary and the nonprofit organization Kids Together, Inc. when leaders envisioned a playground that could be used by all children. As a result, the park was built to reflect a universal design that provides accessibility for individuals with special needs. Chair-accessible swings are built alongside traditional swings, winding ramps are incorporated throughout the play space, and bathrooms include plenty of room for wheelchair and stroller access.
Along with its universal design, Kids Together also features beautiful landscaping elements and artwork. The varied surfacing on walkways and the wide assortment of plants and flowers encourage park patrons and children to explore and play in their surroundings. Additionally encouraging interaction is artist Jim Gallucci’s “Oracle Bench”—featuring a wheelchair-accessible design that allows users to speak to each other through each end of the structure.
Marla Dorrel, the president of Kids Together, Inc., shares that, “These cleverly designed talk tubes are great fun, and though not obvious to the casual observer, one of them is designed to assure that anyone in a wheelchair can participate, whispering a message to a friend. That is a level of detail that demonstrates how the artist understood our focus on integrating play opportunities for those with special needs, applying it to the piece.”
A whimsical dinosaur bench also rests in the park, along with a series of beautiful leaf benches designed by artist Rodney Carroll. These benches, along with KATAL, are cherished parts of CVA’s permanent placement program—an effort created to reflect the importance of art in Cary and to focus on the creation of a love of place within the community.
It is this love of place and community connection that has inspired the recent volunteer efforts of many Cary residents, friends, and leaders of Kids Together, Inc. Although the playground is currently closed to allow for the completion of a new play structure, community volunteers have spent the last several weeks working with Town staff to complete the new play structure and spruce up the park. The efforts and work of artists, nonprofit leaders, and community members reflect Cary’s focus on forming connections within the town and making it a unique and wonderful place to call home.
Kids Together is scheduled to reopen by April 18th.