Accessible to all: Children inaugurate adaptive ski program at Bottineau

BOTTINEAU – Gary Nelson of Stanley helped strap Andy, a Portland youth who uses a wheelchair, into the seat of the new bi-ski at Bottineau Winter Park Saturday.

Flanked by a crew of ski safety personnel, the two partnered down a small hill to initiate the equipment and celebrate the new adaptive ski program at the park. Meanwhile, other ski instructors worked with youth whose mental and physical disabilities might have kept them from the slopes in the past. Their special education program asked that last names of students not be published.

The adaptive ski program is associated with the construction of a handicapped-accessible ski lodge called Annie’s House. The lodge is being built in memory of Ann Nicole Nelson, the daughter of Gary and his wife, Jenette. Ann died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, where she had just begun working for a financial company.

Annie’s House remains under construction, although considerable work has been done. About 250 volunteers from 23 states and as far away as Singapore have helped with the project, which got its impetus from the New York Says Thank You Foundation.

The foundation’s mission is to send volunteers from New York City each year on the Sept. 11 anniversary to help rebuild communities around the country affected by disasters. The events commemorate the generosity extended to New Yorkers by Americans following the Sept. 11 tragedy.

Foundation founder Jeff Parness, who was on hand Saturday, said it was a different type of disaster that brought volunteers to Bottineau last fall. The destruction wasn’t tangible but it was just as real.

“Annie’s dreams were destroyed, and we could rebuild that,” he said.

The idea for Annie’s House came after her parents discovered Ann had a bucket list of things to accomplish in life from knitting a sweater to being a good friend. One of the items on the list was to build a house in North Dakota.

Learning about the list, Parness worked with the Nelsons and Bottineau Winter Park to develop Annie’s House in memory of Ann, who loved to ski and had a heart for the disadvantaged.

“This isn’t a normal house. It’s a testament. It’s a testament to Ann’s spirit,” Parness said.

Joining Parness and Wally Brandjord, winter park chairman, at Saturday’s celebration were Charlie Vitchers, construction manager for the Annie’s House build that brought volunteers from around the country last fall, and Reps. Dick Anderson, R-Willow City, Bob Hunskor, D-Newburg and Jon Nelson, R-Rugby, and Sen. David O-Connell, D-Lansford.

Nelson reported that the House Appropriations Committee attached an amendment to the Human Services funding bill Friday that would provide $200,000 for a project coordinator and equipment for the adaptive recreation program at the winter park. Legislators are investigating additional grant possibilities through North Dakota Parks and Recreation. The adaptive ski program recently was awarded $8,100 from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

Minot State University and the Anne Carlsen School in Jamestown also are partners with the program.

Alan Ekblad, associate professor of special education at MSU, said the adaptive recreation services will give students a chance to work with children with disabilities in settings outside the classroom.

The winter park will offer a variety of equipment and trained instructors to assist people with disabilities on the slopes. It also will provide other year-round, adaptive recreation.

An estimated 130,000 North Dakotans have disabilities, including 13,000 children.