Bouncing along the gravel, lakeside trail between the tall pines and bushy cedars, Mary Stathan’s broad smile erupts into a burst of laughter.
Despite having only limited vision, the clean smell of the outdoors, the sensation of movement and the companionship of her guides is overwhelming.
This is the first trip for the Kelowna woman to Agur Lake Camp nestled in a small forested valley 20 kilometres west of Summerland.
It is the annual Camp Day, an opportunity for the public and especially those with special needs from throughout the Okanagan Valley to have a look at the unique project.
Although there remain a few finishing touches to be done on the site, the two barrier-free cabins are all but complete as are the kilometres of trails which wind their way through the forest, picturesque pasture land and two small bodies of water.
As in the past, members of the Kelowna-based CRIS Adaptive Wilderness Adventures team are on hand to provide their expertise and equipment tailored to help people who might not otherwise be able to experience the great outdoors.
“I think what is really amazing about Agur Lake Camp is to see the lines being erased between ability and disability,” said Stathan, as she sat waiting for her excursion in the specially designed TrailRider. “I have found that I can either be defined by my abilities or my disabilities and I would rather be defined by my abilities, and being here goes a long ways to doing that.
“It’s just a connection with the world, and it’s so important because otherwise it’s just too easy to sit in the dark and have your world defined by a set of rooms.”
Her visual impairment — resulting from a stroke at the age of 30 — has not stopped her from doing the things she wants do.
Stathan believes it is this type of experience which will keep her outlook and that of others with special needs, positive.
While her limited sight does hamper her mobility, it in no way reduces her enjoyment of the natural surroundings she is experiencing on this day.
“I can smell the smoke from the campfires, I can hear the birds, I can feel the winds, there is so much value in what we can’t see,” she said. “Also for me, being here is so much more of a tactile experience, I can feel the rocks, touch the trees. It is a completely different experience than it would be for someone else, and the uniqueness of the experience is so important, it is timeless.”
Coincidently, her sherpa Ryan Jopling, one of the two people operating the TrailRider, is also legally blind, although he does have some vision.
He too is not about to let an impairment stop him from doing what he loves and sharing the experience with his passengers.
“The really enjoyable thing for me is taking one of our participants up on the mountainside side and seeing the views and seeing their expressions,” he said. “For them it’s usually just one big smile from ear to ear, and just to be with them when they do this is just such a sense of accomplishment.”
The idea of this type of camp actually originated with a man named Bonnar Dowler whose son was born with a badly malformed heart more than four decades ago.
While the boy eventually died, Dowler’s dream lived on.
He eventually met up with Robin Agur, who owned the property on which the camp is now located and in 2007 signed a 99-year lease (at a dollar a year) for the four acres.
As well, Agur kick-started the fundraising by donating $10,000.
Through the Agur Lake Camp Society, formed in 2004, a large number of businesses, service organizations, government and individuals have donated time, money and materials to keep the project moving ahead.
Anyone who would like to help with the camp or wanting more information can call 250-809-7130 or email email@example.com.