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KAMP-OUT Kids Visit The Ridges

On Saturday, June 23, 10 families from throughout Wisconsin hiked The Ridges, a nonprofit nature preserve located in Baileys Harbor, through a program called KAMP-OUT.

KAMP-OUT is a program for blind or visually impaired children (ages 3-21) and their families in Wisconsin. The families camped at Potawatomi State Park and then visited The Ridges for a guided hike program.

Ridges Executive Director Steve Leonard met with Diane Gafney, KAMP-OUT coordinator and Orientation and Mobility Specialist who works with kids who are blind and visually impaired, in the summer of 2017 to begin planning the program. “Normally our traditional rustic trail system would not be suitable for those with visual or physical disabilities,” said Leonard, “but our fully accessible Hidden Brook Boardwalk was perfect for this program.”

The Ridges Hidden Brook Boardwalk spans one-third of a mile and is eight feet wide. It begins at the Cook-Albert Fuller Nature Center and connects with the traditional rustic trail system. Led by Peil Construction and built by Ridges volunteers in 2015-2016, the boardwalk has created an opportunity for those with limitations or disabilities to go for a hike through the woods. “This is why we built this boardwalk. It was why so many worked so hard to make it happen,” continued Leonard.

Gafney found out about The Ridges when she was visiting the county looking for ideas for the weekend. “I noticed the new Nature Center and had to stop to check it out. This is when I met Steve and he was kind enough to sit down and talk with me to learn more about our camp and also gave me a tour of the new boardwalk.”

KAMP-OUT was established in 2016, but this was the program’s first visit in Door County. “In addition to getting families outdoors, another goal is to have each family leave the weekend with a yearly state park pass so they can continue to learn and explore the outdoors together.”

The group had beautiful weather, and enjoyed their time exploring the interactive, hands-on nature center before breaking into three groups and going for a walk. They experienced nature by feeling and smelling the different trees branches, listening to the frogs and the babbling brook, and touching the fossils found in the area. “Several of our kids use canes and they were able to walk independently and safely on the boardwalk while following their guide,” said Gafney. “Walking on a boardwalk like this allows the freedom to move with more confidence and independence than hiking on a trail which can have tree roots, rocks and uneven ground.”

“Jonathan had such a great experience we cannot wait to go back and explore again. Our guide was a wealth of knowledge and made it fun and interactive for everyone,” said Debi Meng.

Ridges volunteer hike leader, board member, and Wednesday Work Crew volunteer Bill Wolff worked the program. “The realization that it is possible for anyone to enjoy our glorious spot in this world was very touching to say the least. The opportunity to be in nature, in such a special place, is a blessing and now everyone has the opportunity to enjoy it, regardless of ability.”

For more information on KAMP-OUT, contact Gafney at [email protected]

The Ridges is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Baileys Harbor. Established in 1937, it now protects more than 1,600 acres and is open year round. For more information visit RidgesSanctuary.org or call 920.839.2802.

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