"StirringWaters" Offers Social Connections to Those Living With Disabilities
Ambitious "Adventure Park" Project Planned to Rise Near Lake Aurora
Last updated 5/22/2023 at 2:30pm
Disabilities affect a surprisingly-large percentage of the American population, and too often those physical limitations bring along an unnecessary set of social limitations. The limited ability to enjoy the water, a Florida tradition, is one that can have a solution.
A fully and intentionally inclusive water adventure area for those with disabilities, planned for construction at Lake Aurora just east of Lake Wales, is a vision shared by several non-profit groups. Two local residents, Bill Redmon and Cindy Turner, have been hard at work making the StirringWaters vision happen.
A recent PaddleOn! Lake Wailes event has brought the dream closer to reality. The event drew a host of sponsors, led by Rockin' on the River, who backed participants who canoed, biked, walked, or paddled to help raise funds for the project.
"One big event success is that meaningful connections were made between people with disabilities and people without," said Turner, the lead organizer of the event. "We're grateful because that was one of the event goals. When everyone enjoys recreation together, a heightened level of compassion naturally emerges."
Redmon describes "a rainforest adventure" as the first step in the long-term project. That portion of the park will include an "adventure therapy trail" that will offer visitors a range of sensory stimulation, including tactile, visual, or mobility. It will also include a non-traditional "splashpad," bathhouses, and an innovative, interactive transport vehicle.
The fundraising effort has accumulated about $350,000 so far, Redmon said, with a goal of $1 million to $1.5 million for the first step. The entire project was estimated to cost about $12 million, not counting housing, "but costs have gone up," Redmon noted.
The Saturday morning PaddleOn! brought dozens of people to Lake Wailes Park and the city's public boat ramp to roll, walk, or glide with friends, some of whom were disabled from accidents or military service. Local police and fire department personnel were also involved in the event.
"People with disabilities sometimes shy away from activities because we don't feel welcome or people treat us with kid gloves which feels awkward and embarrassing," said participant Larry Bagley. "Paddle On! gave people with disabilities the opportunity to be included and accepted at the event regardless of our differences. I enjoyed myself immensely!"
Turner and Redmon sought community participants and sponsors for the event in hopes of helping to raise the funds. Platinum sponsor Rockin' on the River donated $5,000 to the cause in memory of Bobby Eddy.
"StirringWaters has always supported Rockin' on the River, so it was an honor to return the blessing," said Lora Donley, a local director of the group. "Donations from ROTC 2020 were given to PaddleOn! to support their first event."
Among those responding as Gold or Silver sponsors were Huston Automotive Group, Camp Rotary Foundation, Weaver Loveless Law Firm, and former local residents Barbara and Dave Connor.
Others included Ben Hill Griffin, Inc, The Groover Companies, Hardin Bell Int'l, Marilyn and Emil Jahna, the Jahna Foundation, Lake Wales Noon Rotary, Lilly and Brown Law, and Laura and John Motis.
The appeal for sponsors succeeded in raising more than $20,000 for the cause, according to Turner.
Others donating to the PaddleOn! cause included SouthState Bank, Duke Energy, Citizens Bank and Trust, Kincaid Electric, Mid-Florida Credit Union, Orlando Health, Rotary on the Ridge, Chevon and Mike Baccus, and Winter Haven Dermatology.
Redmon said that groundbreaking for the StirringWaters park will occur "once we have at least $500,000 in hand, and money coming in." He hopes that goal can be reached by late this year.