Lake Norman & Mooresville

Rescue Ranch augments mission with an all-inclusive playground for kids

As a teacher of exceptional students at Lake Norman High School, Kendra Wood says finding quality field trips for her students can be challenging.

Sometimes facilities aren’t handicap accessible for her children with physical challenges. Sometimes facilitators over-simplify their educational programs because they are short-sighted about the standard cognitive abilities of Wood’s students.

But last spring, Wood reached out to Rescue Ranch, an animal welfare facility in Statesville. Wood felt the staff was as compassionate toward her students’ needs as much as they were toward the animals they serve.

Rescue Ranch will take another giant step toward accommodating children with special needs with a 10,000-square-foot, all-inclusive playground that will include features for children of all abilities.

“We haven’t had access to so many different options that actually fit all of our students’ needs at one time,” said Wood. “Instead of shying away from a playground, we’ll probably try to get several field trips a year there because it works for our kids.

“They will actually have fun, not sit on the sidelines because only a few of our kids can play and the majority have to sit out.”

Some of the playground’s features are a roller slide, which somewhat functions like a conveyor, an Oodle swing that allows for easy access and seats several children at the same time, and a 66-foot zip line ride with a bucket seat.

All the features will be set inside a Poured in Place firm rubber surface that allows accessibility for wheelchairs and walking sticks.

Krissie Newman, the organization’s president and co-founder, says Rescue Ranch, which opened in 2013, had been interested in constructing a general playground. It was after Newman consulted with special needs advocates that she determined the playground should be for all children.

“We started getting in to some of the (exceptional children) programs and what their needs were in the community,” said Newman, whose husband is NASCAR driver Ryan Newman, a Rescue Ranch co-founder.

“I sit on a board of a parent-teachers. There are a few occupational therapists on the board and they were telling me how they were struggling to find places for their families to go. They wanted to help build muscle development and work with kids that have some kind of disability.”

Rescue Ranch staff says a typical children’s educational program at its facility may last a couple hours, a time frame some teachers wished was longer. The addition of the playground will allow groups to stretch out their visits, which will appeal to school groups looking for a more comprehensive trip.

Another component of Rescue Ranch’s mission is to teach responsible animal and pet ownership. The facility is home to several species of small mammals including rabbits and hedgehogs, reptiles, birds and farm animals.

Educational instructors teach interactive lessons about the animals, instructing children on the proper ways to handle and pet them. Rescue Ranch conducts its own day camp programs, welcomes visiting groups from schools and daycares, and hosts birthday parties.

Alex Waid, a 10-year-old from Mooresville, and his 8-year-old sister, Kate, recently attended Rescue Ranch’s springbreak camp and participated in summer camps last year. Alex is especially fond of Marshmallow, 2-year-old Holland lop-eared rabbit. He is looking forward to the completion of the playground.

“I think it’s going to be cool and (kids) will enjoy it,” he said. “You can have more time outside and while you’re playing you can look across and see the animals.”

The Rescue Ranch playground is believed to be the first of its kind in Iredell County. According to the website www.accessibleplayground.net, another inclusive playground in the Lake Norman area are at Jetton Park in Cornelius, but is has significantly fewer accessible components than what the Rescue Ranch playground will have. In Huntersville, the Boundless Playground at Richard Barry Memorial Park is called Tread Town, 13707 Beatties Ford Road. Tread Town promotes inclusive, unstructured play with ramped wheelchair access to the highest platforms, and features a tire swing, state-of-the art solid harness swings for children who need additional back support, and other cutting-edge fitness and educational-based activities.

Krissie Newman says Rescue Ranch is meeting its goals with its fundraising campaign to raise $500,000 for the playground’s cost but added that it will be important to raise additional money to cover future costs.

Rescue Ranch broke ground on the playground on March 29. A ribbon-cutting for donors is scheduled for May 26. Construction is expected to be complete by June 3 and it would appear that the structure’s first participants have already been determined.

“I called dibs on the first date after the playground is finished,” said Wood.

Joe Habina is a freelance writer: joehabina@yahoo.com.

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