Throughout the Forest Preserves of Cook County, visitors can enjoy a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities. But for visitors with physical disabilities, participating in activities like camping, biking and paddling can be more difficult. Through a new partnership with Adaptive Adventures, an outdoor adaptive sports provider, increased programming designed to engage individuals with physical disabilities is planned for sites across the Preserves.
In 2021, Adaptive Adventures hosted their debut “Camping Without Limits” program at Camp Bullfrog Lake in partnership with the Forest Preserves. During the overnight event, individuals with physical disabilities, their friends and families enjoyed a rich and challenging outdoor experience. The event included instruction and equipment for adaptive cycling and kayaking, as well as camping in the accessible facilities.
This year, the Forest Preserves and Adaptive Adventures held a “Without Limits” multi-sport event in June at Busse Woods. “We had our portable rock-climbing wall, we had our kayaks and cycles,” explains Greg Zbrzezny, program director with Adaptive Adventures. “[The Forest Preserves’ Conservation & Experiential Programming Department] really likes the inclusiveness that we could bring, and I think we have similar missions to get people out into our preserves and enjoying nature.”
Through the expanding partnership, Adaptive Adventures will host adaptive programs in different parts of the Forest Preserves, expanding offerings to the west and south sides of Cook County.
“Beyond the equipment that Adaptive Adventures can provide, they also have the expertise in hosting events and programs for individuals with disabilities,” says Jacqui Ulrich, director of the Conservation & Experiential Programming Department.
The work with Adaptive Adventures is part of a commitment by the Forest Preserves to partner with the disability community to increase access to individuals with disabilities, including a site-by-site evaluation of its nearly 300 picnic groves, 40 waterbodies for fishing, cabins and tent campsites at five campgrounds, boat launches and hundreds of restrooms. On the Forest Preserves’ Accessibility website page, visitors can now find the locations that meet specific accessibility criteria, including details like the exact distance between a picnic shelter and the accessible restroom at the site.
The focus on improving the experience for people with disabilities across the Preserves includes designing amenities with accessibility in mind and adding accessible features to existing facilities like parking lots and picnic shelters during capital improvements or maintenance when feasible.
“We want everyone to feel welcome in the Forest Preserves. If someone with a disability wants to go camping, fishing or kayaking—or simply enjoy some time out in nature—the Forest Preserves of Cook County wants to be a resource for them,” says Ulrich.