- The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation invested $600,000 to build the BlueCross Healthy Place at Henry Horton State Park.
- It’s the first BlueCross Healthy Place to be completed in a Tennessee state park and opened to the public in 2020.
- The space features inclusive play areas for ages 2-5 and 5-12, as well as a discovery trail with interactive play pockets.
Hayden Harris is an extraordinary 7-year-old, and his parents Kate and Andy are his biggest cheerleaders. He connected with his family through open adoption in 2017 and has lived with them in Franklin, TN since he was 3. Like any kid, Hayden is active, curious and energetic. He also has Down syndrome.
When he’s not busy playing with friends, he’s advocating for Down syndrome awareness. He was a 2020 ambassador for Nothing Down, a nonprofit organization that advocates for acceptance and belonging while celebrating individuals with Down syndrome. He also appeared in the Publix Super Markets Torch Icon Campaign, a partnership with Procter & Gamble that raises awareness for the Special Olympics.
According to Kate, Hayden’s favorite things include climbing, jumping, exploring, listening to music and being awesome. And staying active is one of the Harris family’s favorite ways to spend time together.
It’s also what led them to spend a day at the BlueCross Healthy Place at Henry Horton State Park in nearby Chapel Hill, TN.
A project “near and dear” to the heart
The BlueCross Healthy Place at Henry Horton State Park opened in 2020. It’s the first BlueCross Healthy Place located within a Tennessee State Park and was funded by a $600,000 grant from the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation.
The space was a passion project of Dan Green, the park’s former facilities manager, and Ryan Jenkins, park manager. Before the project’s completion, Henry Horton had several play spaces, but none were accessible for children with disabilities.
“This project is something that is near and dear to both my wife and I,” Dan says. “We have family members with special needs, and we’re strong believers in learning through play. When a child can’t play with their friend or sibling on the same piece of playground equipment…” he says, his voice trailing off.
The completed BlueCross Healthy Place has two play areas: one for children ages 2-5 and one for ages 5-12. Both are fully accessible for visitors of all abilities and feature a soft rubber safety surface for children who use mobility devices, as well as ramp access and specially designed swings and equipment.
Next to the play area is a small discovery trail with interactive play pockets that teach children about the biodiversity and history of Henry Horton State Park. There are fountains shaped like mussels, climbing structures that look like frogs and a small gristmill.
Since the BlueCross Healthy Place opened, it has welcomed visitors every day — including Hayden and his parents.
“The playground has become a highlight of the community, and visitors come from many towns away to visit the space,” Ryan says. “It’s a perfect addition to the resources within Henry Horton State Park and provides a wonderful, accessible play space that can’t be found anywhere in this region of Tennessee.”
Fun at the BlueCross Healthy Place
Hayden and his family live about 45 minutes from Henry Horton State Park, and they’d visited before.
“We’d been hiking on the other side of the park, but I wasn’t aware of the BlueCross Healthy Place,” Kate says.
After seeing an Instagram post about the new accessible space, Kate immediately told her best friend, who also has a son with Down syndrome.
“She took her two boys to the park, and they loved it, so we decided to meet up there on the weekend,” Kate says.
Hayden, his family and their friends visited the BlueCross Healthy Place for about two hours on a hot summer day. He played on the playground, enjoyed the water features and had a blast pushing his dad and friends on the saucer swing.
“He also enjoyed digging in the sand area with bowls and pretending to cook,” Kate says.
As a mother of a child with a disability, Kate found plenty to love about the space.
“There’s a parking area right next to the playground, and the play space has water features and plenty of shade, which is perfect for kids like Hayden who are sensitive to heat,” she says. “I also appreciated the multiple picnic tables for snack/mealtime and the restrooms adjacent to the play area.”
Kate also understands and values the vision that Dan and Ryan had for their state park.
“Access is a human right,” she says. “An environment should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it . Children of all abilities deserve playground equipment and recreational spaces where they can play together. Disabled parents and caregivers deserve environments where they can actively engage with their children in meaningful ways.”
A dream come true
For Kate, the day spent with Hayden at the BlueCross Healthy Place was truly memorable.
“We will definitely be back!” she says enthusiastically, adding that seeing her son play with his friends always holds special meaning. “Universally designed playgrounds send the message that Hayden and other disabled children aren’t afterthoughts, but valuable, welcomed members of their community who deserve accessibility, belonging and fun. Inclusive playgrounds benefit the whole community, not just a small segment of the population.”
And for Dan and Ryan, this inclusivity is a dream realized.
“We’ve seen a steady flow of children on the playground since the BlueCross Healthy Place opened,” Ryan says. “Henry Horton State Park and Tennessee State Parks are grateful for the generosity of the BlueCross Foundation in improving our park resources.”
To learn more about the BlueCross Healthy Place at Henry Horton State Park, watch the video below: