Twenty-three years later, the nonprofit serves as a place of discovery for children, young adults and families of all abilities to experience nature and healing in a way they may not have thought possible, Executive Director Jenn Hartner said.
“It’s really a place for everybody. When we say all abilities, we mean it,” Hartner said. “I think we heal hearts and create joy in a time when we all need extra love and healing.”
Located along the north shore of Lake Travis between Lago Vista and Marble Falls, the ranch is on 41 acres of pristine Hill Country where around 1,700 Central Texas children are served annually from seven counties. The organization is funded by individual and corporate donations, fundraisers, special events and grants.
“[To my knowledge], there’s nobody else within the Central Texas area that is doing what we’re doing in terms of working with a variety of schools, nonprofits ... [military and foster families] and children that have experienced trauma,” Hartner said.
The Ranch partners with 30-35 nonprofits and schools in Central Texas for its keystone program Children in Nature, which offers customized one- to three-day visits for groups such as Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Foster Angels, Children’s Hospital and special needs classrooms. Run by a team of seven, the ranch offers services for groups of up to 40 people.
“It’s important to impart individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities [with] safe recreation skills,” Hartner said. “So we get them out fishing, kayaking, learning about Central Texas native plants and wildlife ... recreating in their home parks.”
Various activities are available depending on the abilities of individuals, such as a wheelchair-accessible treehouse and ziplines; 45-foot-high climbing ropes; a horse and donkey; arts and crafts; yoga and other options.
Programming is also available for special needs individuals who have aged out of the school system, military families, survivors of abuse or neglect as well as families with children who face unique challenges in exploring nature.
The Ranch experienced a 150% increase in demand for services in the last year for safe and accessible outdoor activities, Hartner said. During the pandemic, the nonprofit developed Project HEAL, a family program designed to alleviate fear, anxiety and stress related to COVID-19. Hartner said all of the participating families reported a decrease in anxiety after just one day, and 90% of the families reported feeling safer in nature and more likely to spend time outdoors.
“We know that if you step foot on that property, you will get benefit from learning something new ... feeling proud of what you did today to challenge yourself,” Hartner said. “Everybody knows, now more than ever, that the healing stability of nature is strong enough for everybody.”
6408 Muleshoe Bend Trail, Marble Falls