National Ability Center outlines expansion plan

Patrick Cone, The Park Record

The National Ability Center (NAC) is planning ahead for the future. Last month, the Park City Planning Commission saw firsthand what the NAC would like to see happen on their 26-acre facility in Round Valley, which is zoned as Recreation Open Space. The NAC was annexed into Park City from Summit County in October of 2004.

The plan is large and comprehensive, including more lodging, arena space, an expanded challenge course, hay storage, and other facilities, but is a very, long range plan, according to NAC executive director Gail Loveland.

"We’re not that far in the process," she says. "It will be a major expansion, if it happens."

Since its founding in 1985, the NAC has grown into one of nation’s premier facilities using sport and recreation to empower individuals of all abilities. The organization concentrates on what people can do; not what they can’t, with adaptive activities like alpine skiing, horseback riding, archery, climbing, canoeing, and kayaking.

"We use sport and recreation to create new leaders, and instill confidence and self-esteem," says Loveland. "And our Paralympic athlete program is year-round; not just for winter sports," she adds.

More lodging for athletes and families are at the top of the list. According to NAC Facilities Manager Jon Serio, the property currently includes a two-story lodge, which was completed prior to the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. There are 26 guest rooms, with an adjoining dining area, kitchen, laundry, and gathering area. "We’re aiming to create more self-sufficient athlete, intern, and family accommodations," he says. "We may even include some rooms with specialized equipment for that narrow population of athletes with more significant disabilities."

And there are certainly times of the year when lodging for visiting athletes and their families is unavailable, or extremely expensive. Anna Beninati is a seated, ski racer on the NAC’s Alpine Race Team and knows how important the Center has been for her personally.

"I’ve struggled to find housing in Park City that is both affordable and accessible," she says. "The current lodge provides both of those options; however it cannot support all the athletes on the team during the ski season. Speaking from experience, and for all of my teammates for whom finding housing is an annual struggle, this expansion will really open up more opportunities for us as we live and train in Park City." She believes that the NAC will be able to grow their programs and participants with the expansion, especially the new rooms.

Preliminary plans describe another 22,000 square feet of lodging, an expanded indoor equestrian arena of 12,000 square feet, and an addition to the administration building of around 3,400 square feet. The NAC is also requesting permission to build 50 parking spaces, improvements to storage sheds, the challenge course and archery pavilion, and even a greenhouse for a gardening program.

The equestrian center, which houses the NAC’s second-largest program, is also due for an upgrade. "We have very little space for families to connect. It’s very cold in the arena during the winter, and we’re planning for more heated spaces," says Loveland.

The NAC is bursting at its seams, and growing fast. They’ve had 31-percent growth since 2010. That includes an increase from 2,400 participants to 3,400 in 2014. "We’re really trying to plan for the future," she continues.

"We’re outgrowing our facilities, especially with the wounded veterans, from here and out-of-state. The needs of the community and funding will drive the timeline on this," says Overland, who is now planning for their Red, White, and Snow fundraiser in March.

The NAC is soliciting feedback on the plans, too. Dec. 10, the group will once again be in front of the Park City Planning Commission for further discussion of the expansion proposal. "Come take a tour," says Loveland. "We’d love have any feedback. Park City has been very supportive. The community recognizes the value of what we do."

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