As politically aware off-road enthusiasts, we are regularly involved with debates regarding land use. Often, we hear terms such as public lands for public use, multiple use, and access for all Americans. On the flip side, we also get bombarded with the latest barrage of land closures from the anti-access crowd. We've also heard our elected officials rant on about the Americans with Disabilities Act and how much he or she is doing for our fellow physically challenged Americans. This month, we wanted to share a story that exemplifies the phrase public lands for public use.
We recently hooked up with three groups that are putting their time and money where their mouths are: Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA), the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs (Cal4wheel), and the Sierra Treasure Hunters 4WD Club (STH). Making a road trip to Northern California, we joined 20 members of Disabled Sports USA for the ride of their lives on the famous Rubicon Trail.
DSUSA, whose sole purpose is to introduce disabled Americans to outdoor sporting activities, is a national organization funded through private donations and various government grants. Participants take part in activities ranging from water-skiing and snow skiing, to snowmobiling and four-wheeling. Funds for the OHV activities were made available through a grant from the California Off Highway Vehicle Commission. DSUSA joined forces with Cal4wheel in creating statewide programs to share backcountry four-wheeling with those who might otherwise never experience it. The program also relies on local clubs, such as the Sierra Treasure Hunters, to provide volunteer drivers and vehicles.
Jolene Wells of Sacramento, California, considered herself a city girl before she strapped herself into a Jeep and headed through the Gatekeeper. Wells, who was disabled in an accident, joined the rest of our group of disabled Americans for two days of high-country four-wheeling and camping. The common thread tying the group together was a love of the great outdoors.
With her wheelchair strapped to the rack, Wells rolled onto the trail with volunteer driver Geoff Ford in his decked-out CJ-7. Wells said, "After becoming disabled, I didn't think I'd be able to participate in outdoor events. Disabled Sports USA has changed that." After a morning of rockcrawling to the back side of Loon Lake, Wells said, "More than once, my heart dropped when I saw the other Jeeps go over some of the rocks. But once we traveled over the same rocks, the thrill of our Jeep just hugging the rocks was really exciting. To see Mother Nature up close is awesome. You just can't get this kind of view from the road or a hotel room."
As the sun set over the Sierra Nevadas, the group circled the wagons at the Loon Lake campground. STH had towed in a large barbeque trailer and proceeded to cook up burgers and dogs. Participants also received custom "I survived the Rubicon" event T-shirts provided by S&H Four Wheel Drive, Larson Marine, Swift Auto World, and Special T's. DSUSA Event Coordinator Jason Burger said, "We really couldn't do this without the support from the OHV division and our volunteer clubs." Treasure Hunter Carrol Bryant said, "Our members really get a lot out of the program as well. We have a great time with our guests. It gives us a chance to share something really beautiful that we sometimes take for granted."
DSUSA is regularly looking for new clubs to host one- or two-day trips. If you are interested in learning how to get involved in this great program or know someone who is physically or mentally challenged and might want to participate, you can contact Disabled Sports USA (www.dsusa.org) or Cal4wheel (www.cal4wheel.com).