Outdoor play is an essential part of childhood, providing time and space for kids to imagine, climb, run, socialize and explore in the great outdoors. But for many children with disabilities, outdoor play is often enjoyed from the sidelines. However, a new park on the South Cumberland Plateau is making outdoor fun available to children of all abilities.
On Saturday, the Miracle on the Mountain Play Outside Park broke ground on 14 acres in Coalmont, which is situated near South Cumberland State Park in Grundy County. Once complete, the park complex will feature one of Tennessee’s first Miracle League baseball fields, a one-of-a-kind inclusive play playground, and a 1.2-mile American with Disabilities Act-compliant trail and reading garden.
The park is the dream of Miracle on the Mountain founders Keith and Audrey Nunley, who envisioned a place where children with disabilities could play on a playground, hit a baseball in front of cheering crowds and enjoy outdoor trails.
The Nunleys’ 7-year-old son has cerebral palsy, so they have experienced firsthand the lack of play opportunities at traditional playgrounds for children with disabilities.
Audrey died in March after a long struggle with cancer. Miracle on the Mountain Play Outside Park is her legacy to Grundy County and the region, and her husband Keith’s tribute to her dream for children with disabilities.
Accessible playground fun
Miracle on the Mountain Play Outside Park will not only feature one of Tennessee’s first Miracle League baseball fields, but a one-of-a-kind playground like no other in the country. According to Landscape Structures, a representative of the playground equipment and a Miracle League partner, the only other park in North America that compares in size and scope to Miracle on the Mountain Play Outside Park is located in Winnipeg, Canada.
Audrey designed the playground in partnership with Kanics Inclusive Design Services in New Castle, Pennsylvania, and Recreational Concepts in Cookeville, Tennessee.
It features a soft rubberized surface for safe play, swings with harnesses, a mini-zip line, slides, forts and climbing equipment. Any child using a wheeled device (wheelchair, walker or stroller) will be able to easily maneuver through the playground to each piece of equipment.
She even worked historical and cultural elements into the park. Playground equipment designs represent the history of coal mining, railroads and farming, as well as the rivers and mountains that define the region.
The playground also features a 1.2-mile ADA-complaint trail. Native trees, including American chestnut trees, will be planted along the route, and a reading garden will be incorporated into the trail, with benches and book boxes offering free books.
The playground and 1.2-mile ADA-compliant trail are expected to be complete by spring 2018. Miracle on the Mountain organizers estimate that the playground will bring outdoor play to 4,600 children with disabilities within a 35-mile radius of the park, as well as families from across the region.
Miracle League baseball
Once the Miracle League ballfield is complete in spring 2017, Grundy County will be home to one of Tennessee’s first Miracle League baseball fields. The group will partner with Atlanta-based Miracle League Association, which has 275 communities with Miracle League programs in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Puerto Rico.
Miracle on the Mountain will coordinate games with three other Miracle League fields in the region: the one at Westside Park in Rocky Face, Georgia, which opened in 2011; the one planned for McKnight Park in Murfreesboro, set to open in spring 2017; and the one at Warner Park in Chattanooga, which is anticipated to open in 2018.
Keith expects the ballfield will host up to four games per week during baseball season (April through September). He is currently working to build two baseball teams within Grundy County, as well as teams in neighboring communities within Marion, Sequatchie, Franklin and Coffee counties.
A dream come true
The total cost to develop the Miracle on the Mountain Play Outside Park is $1.5 million. The group has already raised $81,000 through private donations and grants to help develop phase one of the project, which includes development of the parking lot, sidewalks, restrooms and a concession stand at the entrance to the park.
The group is currently seeking grant funds and private donations to support the completion of the park.
Jenni Veal enjoys writing about outdoor adventures in the southeastern United States. Visit her website www.YourOutdoorFamily.com to learn more about outdoor family travel adventures in the United States. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, notNooga.comor its employees.