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Accessing the wilderness: doing the impossible and having a good time doing it.

In the first warm days of spring, how many people with multiple sclerosis say to themselves, "If only I could get out into the woods, or camp beside a lake, the way I used to..."? Or, "I'd like to try camping or fishing, but with this MS, how can I?"

The person with MS can do all these things and more. The U.S. Forest Service and other governmental agencies provide fully accessible wilderness recreational facilities.

Do you know about the Golden Access Passport? It provides a free lifetime entrance permit to all federal parks, forests, and recreation areas for people who are handicapped. It also provides a 50% reduction of camping fees. These passports can be obtained at any Forest Service office.

While you're requesting that permit, you might want to talk to a recreation officer about free maps, brochures, and the new "Easy Access" booklets listing campgrounds and outdoor opportunities in your area. There are guides available for all 159 national forests in the U.S.

In my backyard, in Wisconsin, there are two national forests, with 9 accessible campgrounds equipped for wheelchairs. These campgrounds are easily navigated by anyone with a mobility problem. Their new, wheelchair-accessible bathroom facilities are state-of-the-art, and some have running water. The paths are always hard-packed for wheels or walkers with unsteady gaits.

In the Nicolet National Forest, for example, you could stay at Franklin Lake Campground, where 40 of the 77 campsites are accessible. Shaded under towering white pines and hemlocks, you'll find restrooms and vault toilets, a picnic area, a shelter, a nature trail (partially accessible), and a small information center. The campground has a boat ramp and an accessible swimming beach.

Two miles away at Buttenut Lake, a fishing pier juts into a beautiful 1300-acre lake where you can catch walleye, bass, bluegill, and perch. The pier is equipped for wheelchairs. Of course, other people use it too.

Incidentally, there are three accessible piers for trout fishing on the Oconto River, a fine trout stream, connected by a blacktopped trail, and there are plans for building 9 more.

From your campsite on Franklin Lake, a one hour's drive takes you to Knowles Creek Wildlife Area, a 170-acre open marsh and water habitat. From the accessible interpretive trail (signs highlight unique areas and sights) which winds along the shoreline and through open fields and woodland, you may see waterfowl, eagles, songbirds, and an occasional beaver. There is also a viewing platform for watching osprey nests. (The best times for viewing are spring and early summer.) Or if you want a quiet spot, try the campground on crystal clear Lost Lake, where no motors are permitted.

National forests all over the country permit "dispersal camping" for the adventurous. You may take any road in a national forest, find a beautiful glade, secluded stream, or small lake and simply pitch your tent. You must carry your water with you, and use natural facilities or a portable chemical toilet. With an ample tent, people who use wheelchairs can enjoy this style of wilderness camping.

I think the real thrill for anyone with a disability is actively taking part in the outdoor experience. For me, this means camping, fishing, and watching wildlife. There is a great sense of accomplishment when you do something you thought you couldn't do.

The average cost for a campsite in a national forest is $6 to $12 per night. With a Golden Access Passport, you pay half of that. But be warned: you should reserve a site well before your trip, especially if you're going to visit in July and August.

For information on recreational opportunities-in the national forests anywhere in the United States, contact:

USDA Forest Service

Attn: RHWR, foe Meade

P.O. Box 96090

Washington, DC 20090-6090

Tel: 202-205-1706

Gerry Rau, who has MS, is a freelance writer in northern Wisconsin. He and his wife spend their free time enjoying the outdoors.
COPYRIGHT 1997 National Multiple Sclerosis Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:includes related information
Author:Rau, Gerald
Publication:Inside MS
Date:Mar 22, 1997
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