Lake Norman & Mooresville

New park open to all abilities

Sherie Haymore's sons had very few options to play together at area playgrounds.

Will, 10, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. Jeffrey, 7, does not. When the Huntersville resident and single mom took them to playgrounds, she would have to push Will in his wheelchair through mulch and the two didn't really interact while playing.

"I rarely took them to a playground because it was hard to actually get the wheelchair to the activities," said Haymore, 39. "Sometimes I'd have to leave the chair at the sidewalk and actually carry (Will) to the activity. And that prevented us from going to playgrounds sometimes."

Now, thanks to American Tire Distributors Inc., the Huntersville Parks and Recreation Department and Boundless Playgrounds, she has a playground both sons can use. The grand opening of Tread Town was held June 25. The new "inclusive" playground is at Richard Barry Memorial Park, 13707 Beatties Ford Road, Huntersville.

"It opens up an endless amount of possibilities for the whole community, with disabilities and without," said Haymore. "With Will being in a wheelchair, there are enough activities around here for my other one that we can all be in the same area and not have to hear, 'Mommy, I'm bored,' or 'Mommy, I don't want to go here.'"

The playground, built so children with and without disabilities can play together, is the first of its kind in Mecklenburg County and the fourth in the state. Haymore's son, Will, who she described as mentally capable and physically unable, was grateful someone had finally built a playground with him in mind.

"He was excited about the fact that he actually will be able get on the apparatuses and be at the same place, at the same height, and do the same things the other kids will do," Haymore said. "The younger brother was excited that he could go somewhere and participate on an upper lever instead of everything being on the ground. I was just happy I didn't have to drag him through the mulch every time we had to get Will in and out of the playground."

The project was funded by a $100,000 gift from American Tire Distributors, which included funds raised during its annual Charity Golf Classic, and $25,000 from the Huntersville Parks and Recreation Department.

Tread Town's foundation was made from recycled rubber, including about 400 recycled tires. The universally accessible surface allows all children and caregivers to navigate the playground. The playground also features ramped wheelchair access to the highest platforms, a tire swing, state-of-the art solid harness swings for children who need additional back support and other fitness and educational activities.

"Nearly seven million children nationwide have a disability that prohibits them from enjoying the full experience of a traditional community playground," said Fred Leone, chief executive officer of Boundless Playgrounds, based in New Haven, Conn. "The new Tread Town playground will positively impact children and adults with and without disabilities for years to come."

Mayor Jill Swain said the playground is another asset to boast about in the community.

"It really is fun," she said. "But this is not just about kids. It's about grown-ups, too. We can participate in enhancing overall development of our kids."

Boundless Playgrounds is a nonprofit developer of inclusive playgrounds, which allow children of all abilities to gain developmental and physical benefits of unstructured play. There are nearly 200 Boundless Playgrounds in 31 states and Canada.

"Boundless Playgrounds provide safe, positive places for all children to play, learn and thrive," said William "Bill" Berry, president and chief executive officer of American Tire Distributors. "We've been a part of this region for 75 years and I can't think of a better way to give back to it than with the opening of Tread Town, the area's first Boundless Playground."

American Tire Distributors has been in the region 75 years and employs more than 300 regionally. The company's field support center and Charlotte distribution center are in Huntersville, and company officials hope to partner with Boundless Playgrounds to build similar playgrounds across the country.