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Accessible Hiking, Camping and Fishing? WOW!  


Editor’s Note: Wilderness on Wheels (WOW) is a foundation and a 501(c)(3) non-profit offering accessible hiking, camping and fishing near Grant, Colorado. Wheel:Life writer, Betsy Bailey, chatted with the managing director, Barbara Cramer, to get their full story.

Roger West and the Beginnings of WOW

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Many years ago, a gentleman named Roger West bought the property. Over a 15-year period, he gathered volunteers, money, and material donations and turned the land into an accessible camping experience. After the initial construction, they went to work on their main goal- building an accessible hiking trail all the way up the mountain to 9,200 feet (WOW itself is already at 9,000 feet). They cut through forest and rock to build the boardwalk. Part of it is on level ground and part of it is elevated as high as 12 feet. It’s all built into cement and reinforced with crossbeams to be able to handle the weight of the snow in the winter. The boardwalk meanders through the wilderness, zigzagging up the mountain and around the river that runs through WOW’s property. They also dug a man-made pond for fishing. Our foundation bought the 20 acres they built on from Roger West about 18 years ago.

Wilderness on Wheels just celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016!

Editor’s note: Roger West was inspired to create Wilderness on Wheels when he found out his father would have to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. West recently passed away after a long battle with cancer.

What We Offer

wow-4The pond is stocked three times a year so people with a disability can come up and fish and be almost guaranteed to catch something. Nothing is more exciting than seeing a little five-year-old boy in a wheelchair catch his first fish.

Hiking on the boardwalk is gorgeous. You see many different types of landscapes- mountain, evergreen, tons of bush, and wild flowers. It’s just a beautiful walk. The most impressive thing about it is that no one else in the whole United States has an accessible trail up a mountain like this.

When you get almost to the top of the mountain, we have a cabin that we rent out. It sleeps four and is completely modern with a fully accessible bathroom, kitchen, and everything else. You can also drive up to that cabin.

In the forest area, there’s a log cabin that sleeps four, has heat, a full kitchen, and an accessible outhouse. It’s really popular.

We have 12 campsites where you can set up a tent on the ground or on a platform.

We have tent platforms that are built level with our wheelchairs. We also have five huts that sleep three to eight (depending on the hut) and are also built level with our wheelchairs. You can just throw in your sleeping bag and crawl in. People will often use a hut and then set tents up around it for other family members.

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We have a charcoal cooker and a fire pit at each campsite so that you can build fires when it’s allowed. We supply all the wood and you can also bring your own charcoal or your electric or gas stoves. Throughout that area, we have three huge gazebos. They are used as picnic areas and they’re all level or ramped. There are picnic tables and benches, and they’re all covered.

We ask people to bring their own food and take out their trash, since we don’t have trash service up there. We also ask people to bring their own bedding, so we don’t have to do so much laundry; we’re on a well up there.

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At the top of the mountain, we have a big area where you can look out onto the entire valley. It’s not unusual to see deer, moose, elk, or the occasional bear or bobcat. We have hundreds of hummingbirds. In the fall, it’s one of the most gorgeous places you’ve ever seen. It’s typical Colorado, except we offer accessibility.

The site is open 24/7. We’re a gated camping experience. We try to keep our people safe. Someone is always there.

Getting the Word Out

In the last few years, since we’ve gone on social media and are doing a lot more PR and advertising, our numbers are increasing. People look for accessible fun online. We get visitors from all over the world, because we’re on a direct path to a lot of other tourist attractions in Colorado, several of which are also somewhat accessible. This past summer, we had over 16,000 visitors.

How We Get Stuff Done

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My husband and I manage WOW and live onsite. I’m in a wheelchair and Bill, my husband, has a partial disability. I do PR, reservations, and answer phones. We also have several board members, including a CEO, secretary, treasurer and some others who handle our website and social media. We have an onsite volunteer who stays up on the mountain three weeks out of every month in case there are things that Bill and I can’t do.

One of the downfalls of having a boardwalk is that we have to make sure it’s all maintained properly.

We have volunteers that come up several times during the summer months to make sure the nails are all pounded in, the boards are in good shape, etc. They also mow, trim bushes and chop wood. We get a lot of large groups coming from organizations and corporations that give their employees a day off for charity work. It’s a great way for us to get everything done. We really count on our volunteers to do the heavy work. It’s amazing how much there is to do on 20 acres!

We have volunteers that come up several times during the summer months to make sure the nails are all pounded in, the boards are in good shape, etc. They also mow, trim bushes and chop wood. We get a lot of large groups coming from organizations and corporations that give their employees a day off for charity work. It’s a great way for us to get everything done. We really count on our volunteers to do the heavy work. It’s amazing how much there is to do on 20 acres!

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Pricing and Reservations

Everything we offer is donation only, except for the two cabins, which we rent for $65/night. For everything else, we suggest a donation similar to what you would pay at a state park ($10-15 per night for a campsite), and that’s what most people donate. Some people may not have much money. If they can’t pay, we still allow them to stay, because someone else will maybe give more to cover them.

We get a lot of day groups that come up from rehab or assisted living centers during the week, but the weekends are really busy for camping. We tell people to make their reservations early in the spring, because otherwise we may have to turn them away.

We rent facilities and campsites to people with a disability or the elderly first, but we don’t turn anybody away if they want to come and hike. Able-bodied people’s money is as good as the next guy’s! And of course, the more people that know about us, the better.

Opening Dates and Access

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We open May 15, weather permitting, and we go through the end of October, weather permitting. It starts to get really cold up there in the middle of October, and we have to shut down the water.

We’re 65 miles southwest of Denver at the base of the Kenosha Pass, between Bailey and Fairplay. We’re pretty isolated – about 14 miles from the closest town – but since we’re just off of Highway 285, we’re very easy to get to.

Funding

It costs us about $50,000 a year to keep WOW open, which includes all of our utilities and maintenance. We do not have any paid employees; it’s strictly volunteer. We hold a couple of fundraisers every year. We also have some trusts that give us money. I’ve been writing grants to get funding for this coming year. We also sell t-shirts, sweatshirts and other items to make money. People are usually very generous.

Anybody that wants to donate $100 or more in someone’s honor or memory gets a plaque.

The plaques are displayed all the way up and down the boardwalk. It’s incredible to see who helped build WOW and who keeps it going. Some family members donate year after year for a loved one.

All Are Welcome

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We welcome anyone, and we especially love catering to families. There are so many places that a family cannot go if they have a disabled member. WOW gives them the opportunity to do family things together.

More Information

For more information or to make a reservation or donate, check out WOW’s website: http://www.wildernessonwheels.org/

You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

About the Authorbetsy-bailey-headshot

Betsy Bailey has a diverse background including experience in marketing research at American Express, business operations and client relations with 601am, travel and culinary writing with VegDining, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.

Betsy is excited to get back into writing, something she’s adored since childhood, and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. On top of her work with Wheel:Life, she also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!

 

 

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