By Brandon Martin
Hundreds of guests flocked to the Infinity Acres Ranch in Ridgeway for the 6th annual Spring Carnival on June 5.
The sight of a line of eager faces waiting to get tickets was welcomed by co-owners of the ranch, Laura and Rick Steere, who were forced to cancel the carnival last year due to the pandemic.
“This is our 6th annual carnival, and we did it as a way for the community to have a way to come learn about who we are and what we do,” Laura Steere said. “This has been growing every year, along with the ranch and the services that we offer. It’s a fantastic way for the people to come and have a nice family day together.”
With the pandemic allowing an extra year to prepare, the event looked a tad different than in years before.
“We’ve got a lot more babies than we’ve ever had before. We have a whole new recreation pad for children’s activities. We’ve got the camel and the Critter Train, which is the first time for the carnival,” Laura Steere said. “The biggest thing this year is, we have improved our accessibility for people in wheelchairs, strollers or walkers, so it’s much easier to get around.”
Sponsors like Dr. David Jones, of Jones and DeShon Orthodontics helped the ranch afford to build cement pathways to help navigate the terrain.
“We are happy just to help a little,” Jones said.
Contributions from donors like Jones also helped to construct a new aviary on the ranch.
“One of the largest differences this year is our aviary,” Rick Steere said. “We have a lot of fun birds, and you can go inside to feed them. They will land on your head or your arm. It’s not a normal process to have birds land on you, so that is neat for people to experience.”
With all of the new amenities, Laura Steere said the ranch is in full gear to have a fantastic year post-COVID.
“Now that COVID regulations are starting to be lifted, people can expect us to be wide open and busier than ever,” she said. “We’ve got more animals, more exhibits, more opportunities for engagements, and we are still offering our day support program five days a week all year. We are offering more mobile exhibits and presentations as well.”
Much happens at the ranch but it’s not always seen by the community, according to Rick Steere.
“A lot of the time, our neighbors will go past the house, but they never come down the driveway,” he said. “When they finally do come down the driveway, then it all clicks, and they realize what we actually do down here.”
The daily activities keep the couple busy year-round.
“Daily, our main focus has to be feeding and taking care of the animals. We are licensed by USDA and we take fantastic care of our animals,” Laura Steere said. “Every day, they get their areas cleaned, food, water and medical care if they need it.”
After ensuring the animals are properly cared for, Laura Steere said the attention switches to the programs offered.
“Then, we have our programs for our adults with disabilities on Mondays through Fridays,” she said. “On weekends, we are doing festivals or animal encounters here. Parties are very popular here. Then in the evenings, it gives me time to catch up on office work because there is a lot of grant writing, fundraising, and licensure requirements.”
Because it is a non-profit organization, the ranch activities are funded through grants and money raised from events like the carnival.
“Every cent of the money we take in today and throughout the year goes towards our programs for adults with different abilities. That is what this whole thing is for,” Rick Steere said. “Any function we do like this, any exhibits that we do, all goes towards Friends of Infinity Acres, which is our major program. It’s five days a week, 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. We have 10-12 adults come here every day.”
Over the course of the last year, the ranch made a name for itself as a top spot in Virginia to HipCamp.
“It’s like Airbnb but it’s onsite camping instead,” Rick Steere said. “We have a pad where RVs can park. What they will do is they will book an animal encounter and they will have access to all of the available amenities for the duration of their stay. We started last year, and we’ve been voted number 2 in the state of Virginia for the best HipCamp.”
Rick Steere said that on any given weekend, the ranch hosts 15-20 people between its five different sites.
“Two of the sites, we call primitive camping because we don’t offer any facilities like showering, but there are outdoor facilities,” he said. “We have water and electricity for a couple of our sites, but other than that, it’s very primitive.”
Because of the unique layout of the ranch, Rick Steere said the venue attracts guests from all over the world.
“You can go anywhere, and you won’t find any facility like ours. We’ve been told that from people all over … places like D.C., Texas, and Florida,” he said. “They come here for our HipCamping, and we are even a destination stop for people coming in from Europe. They can’t find anything like what we do. This is not a zoo. It’s a hands-on thing, and we also teach while people are visiting us. We want people to walk away from here and say, ‘that was a great experience.’”
Additionally, there’s always space for growth, according to Rick Steere.
“If you come to us with an idea for something to have at the ranch, we will not say ‘no’ without thinking about it really hard,” he said. “We want to have that feedback. We are very flexible, and we will try and make it work.”