Most of us never give our travels or adventures into the great Oregon outdoors a second thought.
Why should we?
After all, for most of us there are countless exciting opportunities for varied adventures and destinations with few barriers to get in the way.
PHOTOS: Wheelchair Destinations
But what if the challenge of simply “getting there” was huge, even monumental – so much so that it was far easier to just throw in the towel, stay home and never experience Oregon’s many outdoor sights and sounds at all?
John Williams would like the change that perspective!
Williams is a familiar voice to many – he plays the soft rock sounds on Portland’s K103fm radio dial.
You’ve likely heard Williams if you’ve spent much time in the Rose City.
After all, he has been on the rock radio scene since 1977.
But interestingly, when the radio studio goes quiet, there’s another sound that Williams would rather hear: the sounds of the wild!
John Williams likes to be where the flocks are; it’s a passion that he’s owned since he was a kid.
“I was always full steam ahead,” noted the radio broadcaster on a recent trip to William Finley Wildlife Refuge near Corvallis, Oregon. “A normal childhood and I tried everything and even some things I shouldn’t have,” he said with a hearty chuckle.
John had polio as a child – he didn’t walk until he was four – but his family and their northwest adventures always made Williams feel right at home – whether in leg braces or in a chair – the polio never slowed him down.
“I wanted to be able to compete so I started playing wheelchair sports like wheelchair basketball when I was 14. I played that until I was 50 – but two shoulder surgeries told me it was time to get off the basketball floor.”
But outdoor adventures like fishing, hunting and boating came easy to someone eager to explore a love for the northwest outdoors.
Recently, Williams figured he could do more to help others who may be too fearful to head outdoors.
He produces a new TV program called “Wheelchair Destinations.”
“I wanted to actually show people how accessible a destination is! There are plenty of web sites, plenty of books that talk about it, but no one has actually shown people how accessible a place really is when you get to it.”
So far, he has compiled 26 3-minute segments that center on places and activities for folks who roll on wheels rather than walk on two legs.
William's travels and specialty reports have taken him from the Oregon coast to the Cascade Mountains and include a visit to famous Timberline Lodge where he found out how accessible the old lodge is for folks in wheelchairs.
“Even I didn’t realize how accessible a place it is,” said Williams. “They’ve done some exceptional retro-work up there: parking lots are very accessible and you can go in on the bottom floor thru wide automatic doors. They’ve retrofitted with elevators, but they’ve not changed the integrity of the original building and I think that is very important.”
He’s visited many prized local sites and critiques them too, offering a visual story of the good, the bad and the not so friendly wheelchair access.
For example, Williams takes viewers to the popular Portland destination at Washington Park Rose Garden:
“You actually see me huffing and puffing up a hill and if you see that on video, see what I’m going through, then you will have a good idea of what to expect and help you decide whether you want to go there yourself.”
Williams gave high marks to the recent retrofit of the famous Oregon State Park Vista House – for many it is considered the gateway to the Columbia River Gorge:
“They have installed an elevator to take you from the bottom floor to the top floor but you don’t see the machinery at all when you enter - it comes out of the floor! It was truly engineered properly and hasn’t destroyed the integrity of the original building. I think they did a terrific job!”
Williams added that there are other notable travel destinations across Oregon that are wheelchair friendly too.
For example, explore the North Fork Nehalem River’s Disabled Angler Platform where salmon and steelhead are always on the bite.
Or the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument where you will find a raised wooden boardwalk that allows folks a close up view to 60 million years of geologic history.
Finally, check out the Wildwood Recreation Site’s Cascade Streamwatch Trail. The paved path takes you along the Salmon River for more than a mile and even puts you nose to nose with baby salmon in a tributary stream near Mt Hood.
Back at Finley Wildlife Refuge, John and I enjoyed the Homer Campbell Memorial Trail: a 1700’ elevated boardwalk that courses through an oak and wetlands area and eventually ends at a view blind.
Here, you can duck in out of bad weather and the blind overlooks a pond that is favored by waterfowl and eagles.
“They’ve done a real good job out here with a cement apron in the parking area that makes the wheelchair rolling easier and connects to the boardwalk that takes you clear out to the marshland. It’s very impressive. You’ll have no problem in a wheelchair – it’s good stuff!”
Williams adds that Oregon - and especially Portland - lead the nation in accessibility…that’s something more people in chairs should embrace:
“I really want to show folks what a beautiful part of the country we live in so they will get out of the living room and head out for travel across Oregon.”
It’s spring in Oregon and we’re out enjoying the outdoors! For details on creating an Oregon Adventurecation and for special travel deals, check out “Adventurecation.”