This computer image of Stockholm's future "inclusive playground" shows one of two wheelchair ramps that will allow children and adults with mobility challenges to access the equipment. Credit: Courtesy of Lindsey Theriault

STOCKHOLM, Maine — One of Aroostook County’s tiniest towns will become the first small community in Maine to create a playground designed to include children with physical and developmental disabilities.

Stockholm had a population of 250 people as of 2020, placing it among the smallest towns in Maine. But with an influx of families during the pandemic, Stockholm residents want to give those children something that the town has not had in more than a decade: a playground. And they are making it one that can welcome children of all abilities.

The hundreds of public playgrounds in towns and cities across the state are built with standard equipment that can be used by most of the population, but is not friendly to children with disabilities.

Maine’s only two other inclusive playgrounds are in the state’s two largest cities: the Gerald E. Talbot Community School in Portland and Jude’s Place at Marcotte Park in Lewiston.

Stockholm’s new playground, expected to be installed next summer, will include two wheelchair ramps so that children and adults with mobility limitations can access the equipment. Swings will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and designed for children with physical challenges.

There will also be modern sensory-based toys and equipment that can benefit children who have Down Syndrome or those on the Autism spectrum.

The town has not had a playground since its elementary school closed in 2008, said Lindsey Theriault, chairperson of the new recreation committee. That fact has prompted community members to raise funds for the playground and invest in new recreational opportunities.

In 2021, RSU 39 — the school district serving Caribou and Stockholm — saw an unprecedented spike in enrollment when 84 kids moved in from other in-state schools and 26 from out of state. As the pandemic stretched on, more families sought out rural towns as safer, more welcoming places to raise their children.

But with Stockholm located nearly 20 miles north of Caribou Community School, the town’s children have to travel farther during school vacations if they wish to use the school’s playground or take advantage of the city’s recreational programs.

That’s why Stockholm residents have made it their mission to provide those opportunities to their own children.

“Lots of people with kids are moving to Stockholm, including those who grew up here. People are seeing what a beautiful little gem we can offer,” Theriault said.

By building a new and inclusive playground, the town hopes to attract more families, including parents whose children have disabilities.

Since forming its first recreation committee in 2020, Stockholm has raised $110,000 of its $200,000 goal to purchase and install the playground equipment. Most of those funds have come from donations given by current and former town residents. The committee recently snagged a $10,000 grant from the Maine Community Foundation.

After the playground is installed, the committee will switch its focus to creating seasonal recreational programs for children and adults. Though Stockholm’s community center has a weight room and gym for residents, the town has never had a recreation department.

With the new playground being close to the town’s 5-mile trail system, the committee hopes to create programs around snowshoeing, nature walks, biking and other outdoor activities. They will also utilize the community center for regular indoor programming.

“The community is investing in the future of our children and in something that will benefit all of us,” said Theriault, who is also an RSU 39 school board member.

“We want to make our community center truly a ‘community’ center,” she said.