Campers often take their ability to spend a few nights in a tent in the woods for granted. But for people who use wheelchairs, sleeping on the ground isn’t always an option. To help people with disabilities explore nature, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources provides 10 wheelchair-accessible cabins around the state. The department recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of its first log cabin at Mirror Lake State Park. What began as a volunteer project of the Telephone Pioneers of America has grown into a popular program that has allowed thousands of people to spend starry nights in the state park system over the years. “I’m really impressed,” Lori Olson, 45, of Elkhorn said on a June weekend during her first stay at an accessible cabin, at Ottawa Lake in the Kettle Moraine State Forest-Southern Unit.
“I haven’t camped in so many years. I used to be a Boy Scout leader. I miss camping.”
Olson, who was born with spina bifida and has used a wheelchair or crutches all of her life, managed to do a little camping when her son, Mack, was a Boy Scout. But now, she said, “I’m getting too old for the ground.” The cabins sleep six, with two hospital beds in the bedroom, a sleeper sofa in the living room and two cots on the screened porch. It has a Hoyer lift for people who need assistance with transfers, and a shower-commode chair. Olson was excited about using the wheel-in shower, which is a better setup than what she has at home. Of course, she also was excited about making s’mores in the fire ring with her son and cooking her Dutch oven favorites. Husband Richard’s two daughters and a boyfriend joined them. The kitchen, which has low counters for easy wheelchair access, is equipped with a stovetop, microwave and refrigerator. Because of health regulations, campers must bring their own kitchen utensils, towels and bedding — just like camping.