I thought for the first chapter of my blog it would be best to explain what John Dillon Park means to me. Growing up I spent lots of time camping, I find the wilderness to be a source of inspiration and rejuvenation. After my spinal cord injury I was no longer able to spend time in the backwoods. I had heard about John Dillon Park but never thought it would be a possibility because I needed a lot of care. It was difficult for me to transfer from my chair to the bed, and I depended on other people to dress my lower body among other things.
The first time I camped in 2016 was only possible thanks to friends who were willing to do whatever it took. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go but my friends knew how much it would mean to me. My first trip to the park was life-changing. I had not been in the outdoors like that for 12 years. After my third year in 2018, I decided to reach out and see how I might be able to get involved. I was invited to the advisory board meeting as a consultant for the accessible showers. It was at this meeting that I knew that there was definitely a place for me here.
With my background in independent living I am very comfortable and educated about people with disabilities. I spent the whole winter thinking about the ways to increase the attendance of people with disabilities. I came up with the happy camper initiative. In the spring I turned my ideas into a presentation for the Advisory Board. After that I was offered a position as Outreach Coordinator.
Last year I became a student of the park. I went for three nights each in June, July, and August, as well as a weekend in September. I took a whole different approach. I spent a lot of time in the welcome center talking to campers and staff. I spent time with the staff on the porch of their cabin and looked at every aspect of the park in a new light.
In order to effectively reach out and find campers I felt as though I needed to know more about what was going on. The 7% of people with disabilities that had been reported was based on staff observation. Some of the campers that I talked to had hidden disabilities. One woman in particular had an interesting story about how her and her husband used to camp in the backwoods of northern Canada. She had developed a condition that made it difficult to walk and see. They had been coming to the park for several years and cherish every moment. I dubbed them “the happiest campers.“
As I took it all in from a new perspective, I learned a lot more about how I could possibly increase the attendance of people with disabilities. When I first arrived for each visit, I would be very excited to take pictures and really explore. By the evening of the second day I was completely settled into life in the woods. Whenever I am at John Dillon Park I am calm and in tune with nature. It has a healing effect on my mind, body and soul.
After the summer I contacted previous campers to see who would be interested in sharing their stories. In the spring I had big plans to spread the word to people with disabilities. Then COVID-19 happened.
As we considered the possibility that we may not open, we realized that it would be a great opportunity to do a major overhaul. After being open for 12 years, the park needed a lot of maintenance, including replacing the roofs of several lean-tos, cleaning up all of the trails and around each campsite, putting a new floor in the welcome center and many other things that would be difficult to do while being open.
I decided to use this time to learn more about the origin of the park, reach out to campers, address some accessibility issues and redo the website.
I am on a mission to see John Dillon Park be maximized to it’s potential. I am taking the time to get to know the board members, the staff, and many regular campers. The stories and pictures that I have received from campers tells a collective story of what John Dillon Park is truly all about.
I am communicating with everyone involved and learning more about who will benefit the most, in order to seek out the future John Dillon Park campers. That is my purpose and I am not going to stop.