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  • Radford Bean

New Paddling Group Aims to Get Disabled People on the Water

I had the opportunity to meet with five other individuals this afternoon at Cook Park in Tigard to discuss ways of making paddling accessible to the physically handicapped. Some of those in attendance, including myself, were simply good Samaritans eager to help the disabled enjoy an activity we embrace. Others in attendance had personal handicaps they had to deal with, some visible, others hidden.

One of those in attendance, Megan, had been involved in a horrific car accident that left her fighting for her life. Miraculously she survived, but the accident tore her aorta, broke several of her ribs, crushed her left leg (requiring the insertion of a rod), and broke an arm. She bares the outward physical scares of surgery and walks with a slight limp. But despite all she has endured and will have to endure, including surgery to replace the rod in her leg, she appears remarkably upbeat.

George, the man responsible for gathering us at Cook Park, lost his legs in a motorcycle accident and now is confined to a motorized wheelchair. He had been paddling a couple of times with a local kayaking group but felt his disability was a burden to others in the group who had to lift him in and out of a kayak. I assured him that paddlers are a special breed of people and that helping him in and out of a boat was no burden to them—we love to share our affection for paddling with people of all abilities and disabilities. Still, he wanted to form a group specially focused on those with disabilities that want to get out and paddle. As a result, he started up the Meetup group Kayak/Canoe for the Physically Challenged. We’ve decided to change the name because it’s just too long and isn’t catchy enough.

George had first considered putting in a portable handicap lift system at Milo McIver State Park and Champoeg State Park.

Knowing the canoe and kayak access limitations of Champoeg State Park from land, I decided to contact Steve Martin at Tigard Parks and Recreation to see about the feasibility of installing a handicap lift system at Cook Park. I felt Cook Park, and more specifically the Tualatin River, would be a better location for disabled paddlers. The parking lot is within easy access of the river; there is a boat ramp; paddlers on the Tualatin River don’t have to deal with high speed boats, water skiers, wakeboards, and other wake toys; there are few motorized boats on the Tualatin River, and most are used strictly for trolling; the bathrooms at Cook Park are also disabled accessible; and the Tualatin River is narrower, shallower, and much more placid, so if a disabled person capsized, rescue would be much easier, quicker, and safer. All of these points made Cook Park and the Tualatin River the better choice.

I relayed my suggestions to George who then arranged a meeting with Steve Martin for this coming Thursday, October 23. In the meantime, he and I gathered with four others interested in the paddling group—Nadine, Megan, Chris, and Trish—to discuss the feasibility of Cook Park as a better choice than Champoeg and Estacada Lake as a second location.

Our first meeting was very productive. What came out of the meeting is the following:

  1. We will look into installing a mobile boom to hoist disabled paddlers in and out of their boats at Cook Park and Timber Park at Estacada Lake. Originally, the plan was to have the hoist installed at Milo McIver State Park, but Oregon Parks and Recreation charges a fee to enter Milo McIver. Given the medical expenses many handicapped people have to bare, we felt that keeping costs down was critical.

  2. We also discussed the possibility of setting the boom up at Lacamas Lake in Clark County, Washington.

  3. The boom will be easily removable so as not to impede other people’s use of the dock.

  4. The boom will utilize a hand-cranked winch to raise and lower paddlers using a seat similar to the seat used on a playground swing.

  5. Boats will consist of sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks, canoes, tandem kayaks with wide cockpits, and maybe later Hobie kayaks that have the flippers to allow those without arms to also paddle.

  6. We will form a 501c non-profit corporation so we can solicit boat donations from outfits such as REI, Cabela's, and Next Adventure. George has already started filling out the paperwork to form the non-profit.

  7. Chris Mayou has agreed to step up and be treasurer.

  8. Megan will work with George on the boom design and will research other designs already in use by Oregon Adaptive Sports in Bend.

  9. I have offered to serve as communications director.

  10. We decided the name of our meet-up group is too long and will work on coming up with a catchier name.

  11. We don’t want to exclude the mentally disabled and will take them paddling on a case-by-case basis predicated on the nature and severity of their handicapped.

We are looking for other able-bodied individuals to participate, so if you’re interested, contact me at Most importantly, if you know of retailers that would like to help, send them our way.

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