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February 8, 2023

Santa Cruz County’s first inclusive park opens

LIVE OAK—Santa Cruz County’s first-ever inclusive playground officially opened Jan. 18 at Chanticleer Park in Live Oak. 

LEO’s Haven, a playground designed to welcome children with disabilities such as blindness, mobility impairment and autism, is the centerpiece of the $4 million rebuild of the 4.5-acre park.

The project is the brainchild of Oliver Potts’ parents, Tricia and Bob. Oliver largely has to go through the world in a wheelchair. 

LEO is an acronym for their three children, Lauren, Evelyn and Oliver. 

In a brief speech Oliver said: “My name is Oliver Potts. I want to say thank you for building this playground for kids like me and thank you for coming to this grand opening. I am looking forward to playing with friends and family. The end.”

A visit to the grand opening of Tatum’s Garden in Salinas in 2013 inspired Tricia Potts to lead a similar campaign in Santa Cruz County. 

“The next day we called the County Parks Department and we’ve been working to this day on this project,” Potts said. “When I had this vision of having this playground where every child could belong I was really scared for a lot of reasons. I made a promise to my children but I couldn’t have kept that promise without your help.” 

Tricia Potts and her son, Oliver, address the crowd at the opening of LEO’s Haven Saturday in Live Oak. — Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

Potts’ momentum eventually brought in another local mother, Mariah Roberts, head of Chanticleer Park Neighbors Association. She and Potts brainstormed and came to the Board of Supervisors to advocate for the park. The community group, Friends of Chanticleer Park, was formed.

From there everything started rolling: giant contributions, matching funds, bake sales, bike rides, Lion’s Club and Rotary Club funds, $2 million in private donations alone, and more.

Now, with the support of Shane’s Inspiration, the Chanticleer Park Neighbors Association and the county, LEO’s Haven provides interactive and sensory-rich experiences for children ages 0-5 and 6-12. Playground designs include a sensory touch wall, replica farmer’s market, “wee-saw,” accessible and traditional swings and slides.

“I’ve been watching the progress every day,” said Jen Lovewell, who showed up with her 2-year-old son. “We live right across the street so, yes, this is a very important day for our family.” 

Tricia Potts also gave credit to her husband, who she said immediately backed her dream. 

LEO’s Haven was designed by Shane’s Inspiration and was built by Granite Construction. It includes a bathroom and parking lot, and is surrounded by community gardens, bike pump tracks, off-leash dog areas and picnic areas.

Kendra Cleary said Capitola/Aptos Rotary Club held a roast fundraiser and came up with $70,000, which was, in turn, matched by County Parks.

“It’s phenomenal, the way this community came together,” she said. “The resilience, the community spirit—it’s a great feeling.”

Tarmo Hannula
Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.


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