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'A park for everyone' | Jolley Park opens its gate for play

The all-inclusive park caters to children and adults with disabilities through safe slides, padded grounds and swings with seatbelts.

MORRISTOWN, Tenn. — It's been just under a year since the Jolley family broke ground on an "It could happen" project. On Saturday, the family stood before the town of Morristown to say "It did!"

The Jolley Park off West Morris Boulevard was built in memory of Eugene “Gene” Jolley. He passed away in September of  2021. He was an integral part of the community in Morristown as a leader, businessman, and philanthropist. His picture hangs outside of the park entrance. 

Jolley Park is a massive all-inclusive playground complete with cushiony grounds, ramps, and wheelchair-accessible structures. It's meant to bring children with and without disabilities together through play.

"It's such a unique opportunity for all children of all ages to be able to play together and build friendships and relationships. I think that's really what's important," said Brad Turner with the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

He said these types of parks are important in fostering inclusive communities.

"These sorts of messages are intentional when you create playgrounds for access for all abilities. I think it speaks very directly to children with disabilities and families that you're welcome in this community," Turner said.

At least a hundred people in and around the Morristown area gathered for the grand opening. Many of those families had children with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Susan Schaffer is the grandma of Zachary, who is wheelchair-bound. She said they've never experienced a park that is accessible in this type of way.

"When they get bigger, they're very hard to carry up a slide, they're very hard to lift and get into a regular swing and then you have to hold them. And this makes it so you don't have to always have your hands on them. And they've got a little bit of freedom," Schaffer said.

The park is equipped with seatbelts on most of the swings and ramps that lead to slides.

"It gives them a chance to be a typical child and a chance to play like a typical kid, and a chance to play with typical kids," Schaffer said.

Anna Pagan also felt the excitement of the day. Her son Tony was born with Spina bifida and is also wheelchair-bound.

"There's not a lot of things for them to do around here. And when they told us about this park, I was excited," Pagan said.

Tony was one of the first people to roll through the ramps on the playground structure.

"It's gonna be somewhere that we're gonna be a lot of the summers and stuff like that," Pagan said. "Having this and having so many things to do around. I think it's so awesome."

Turner said the TN DIDD is hoping to see more of these all-inclusive parks pop up across the state.

"We're starting to see them in different areas, like middle and east and in west Tennessee," Turner said. "I'm anticipating that it's going to continue."

The Jolley Park is open to anyone and everyone. It is free to access. The address for the park is 441 W Morris Blvd, Morristown, TN 37813.

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