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Enabling the disabled.

As I open my eyes and look out through the open tent flap, I see elk grazing in the moonlight. Our camp is an old floorless army-style tent in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area Of western Colorado. We leave the flaps open day and night to provide relief from the unseasonable seasonable heat. A spring-fed trickle serves as our refrigerator as well as dividing the surrounding meadow of knee-deep wildflowers. Our pit toilet is on the edge of a forest devastated by fire over 40 years ago. The new growth provides a banquet for the wildlife and a natural frame for the 250-foot waterfall across the valley. The only reminder of civilization is 20,000 feet overhead in the jt trails coursing through an unbelievable sky.

This was no ordinary wilderness trip. It was a pilot project for the Forest Service and the first of its kind anywhere ill the world. Last summer, Creighton and I were the first disabled Forest Service volunteers to work as Information Specialists in a wilderness environment.

Creighton, 18, has cerebral palsy, which robs him of most of the use of his legs. I use four artificial limbs and dialyze on a kidney machine an average of three times a week. But we executed the same responsibilities as able-bodied wilderness guards. We helped people, monitored how much the area was used, and checked use permits. While in camp, we were self-sufficient and dependent only on ourselves for our survival and wellbeing. Our only concession to our disabilities was the help we received getting into and out of the area on horseback.

The rangers of the White River National Forest are striving to open their forests to the disabled and have formed a partneship with the Van-eagle Valley Rotary Club called PAW (Physically challenged Access to the Woods). They are making existing cain sites and picnic areas accessible to the disabed as well as constructing new ones, scheduled for completion this year. A disabled host program and fishing docks and nature trails for the bhnd are other planned features.

PAW has also formed a statewide network that has drawn interest from National Forests in other western states. The Wilderness pilot is over, but the dream grows. This year, we plan to have nine disabled volunteers working in two Colorado Wilderness Areas-six in the Flat Tops Wilderness and three ill the Holy Cross Wilderness. Each will work for five days.

We have already begun our plainning for next year. With help from other National Forests and many more volunteers, we anticipate visiting more Wilderness Areas. It takes many people --both able-bodied and disabled-to make a dream like this work. This prograin is entirely dependent on the efforts Of volunteers for its continued existence. We would like to like from anyone interested.-AlAN WILLIAMS
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Forests
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Title Annotation:disabled Forest Service volunteers
Author:Williams, Alan
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jul 1, 1989
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