On a recent sunny afternoon, more than a dozen children gleefully raced around P.K.'s Place, a new inclusive playground on the east side of Allianz Field in St. Paul, as watchful moms and dads rested in the shade of a center canopy. To a casual observer, this bright play space appeared like any other — swings, slides and places to spin and bounce.

It was so much more.

With ramps allowing children in wheelchairs to ascend the central play structure, as well as numerous other swings and apparatus usable for children of all abilities, the 16,000-square-foot P.K.'s Place is St. Paul's first fully inclusive playground. It's one of several in the Twin Cities with at least some inclusive components, and advocates and parents of disabled children say they hope it marks a growing trend.

"I am delighted," Shamus O'Meara, of St. Paul, said of the playground paid for by Minnesota United and owner Bill McGuire and his wife, Nadine. "I think it says a lot [for the McGuires] to provide spaces that are accessible and welcoming."

O'Meara, whose 26-year-old son Conor has autism, has worked with officials for years to create more play areas designed for all children. Conor, he said, would have felt welcome here.

"The space is comfortable, engaging and safe," O'Meara said. "The message it sends resonates with people."

A universally accessible playground opened in Minneapolis' Wabun Park a decade ago. It's the only one within the city's system, said Cliff Swensen, director of design in the planning division of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Other playgrounds have elements to enhance accessibility, he said, including ramps to reach elevated play components and resilient surfaces to make it easier for wheelchairs to traverse the space.

"It's a quiet thing that we do, but one that the park system has taken very seriously," Swensen said.

Park Board officials hope to obtain grants and other funds to help reach a goal of at least one fully accessible playground in each of its six districts. To be universally accessible, a play area must have at least 70% of its play features fully accessible, far more than required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Kelly Simich is the owner and president of Flagship Recreation in Lake Elmo, which built P.K.'s Place and a number of other public and private play areas throughout the metro. Inclusivity is about more than making apparatus that all children can use, she said. Play areas should allow disabled parents and grandparents to participate as well.

Simich said she remembers watching a dad in a wheelchair playing with his children at Madison's Place Playground in Woodbury.

"And he was crying," she said. "It was the first time in years that he was able to play with his kids on the playground. This is exactly why we do what we do."

Building an inclusive playground is not cheap. While many city playgrounds have accessible features, St. Paul Parks and Recreation officials said they've yet to build an inclusive playground. But one is planned at the new Victoria Park in the southwest area of the city, and the city has made a request for state bonding.

Half of the $5 million needed for the new park has been raised, and work will begin on its multipurpose athletic fields this summer. The playground will have to wait.

Renee Pritzker's son Jake, 39, is in a wheelchair most of the time. She's worked with St. Paul officials for years and helped design an inclusive playground at Victoria Park. She acknowledged that funding is a challenge, but so, too, was years of watching as her son was unable to join his sister Sarah on playgrounds.

"Sarah would be climbing, playing with other children, and Jake and I would watch," Pritzker said. "She would be having a grand time, playing with her friends ... and she would catch a glimpse of her brother and immediately come down and hold his hand and tend to him.

"Imagine what that was like for all of us and the countless times we faced that scenario?"

She wants to thank McGuire for building P.K.'s Place.

McGuire said he wanted to create a play space that excludes no one. Fun, he said, should be shared by all.

"We share a central belief that opportunity is a critical and an irrefutable necessity for everyone," the Minnesota United owner said. "And opportunity should extend to every circumstance — and in literally every aspect of our lives.

"It's a privilege for my family — and for Minnesota United and its much larger extended family — to bring this forward into our community."