Long known as a retirement community, a summer destination resort, and as a haven for hunters and fishers, Wallowa County took on a new clientele of vacationers July 29.
That was the date when the Blue Mountain Council of the Boy Scouts of America signed a long-term lease to its 90-acre camp holdings at Wallowa Lake to Creating Memories, the local nonprofit that arranges free outdoor recreation experiences to clients with disabilities.
The signing of those papers likely will generate little new income for an economically stressed county where timber once was king, but it could attract national and even international attention to this rural community as it begins to host free outdoor-oriented vacations for the disabled.
Ken Coreson, the man with the vision that launched the Creative Memories project less than three years ago, said assembling his eight-member board of directors at the lake property with Scout officials from their headquarters in Kennewick, Wash., to hold a gala presentation became a logistical nightmare that couldnt be overcome.
With the attention of Scout officials pointed away from Wallowa Lake to a three-week Cub Scout camp involving more than 1,000 Scouts, a decision was made for Creating Memories to sign and notarize the lease agreement and forward it to the Blue Mountain Council to do the same.
The BSAs signature to that 50-year lease with an option to renew for another 50 years was affixed the morning of Tuesday, July 29.
Although no rent is included in the legal arrangement, all improvements made by Creating Memories to the property will revert to the Boy Scouts if the contract is not fulfilled.
The primary beneficiaries of that pact will be disabled persons of all ages who will be given no-cost, week-long vacations to stay in refurbished cabins on that acreage at Wallowa Lake with guide-aided opportunities, if thats their desire, to hunt for deer, elk, turkeys, and bear. They can also choose to cast fishing lines into Wallowa Lake and elsewhere.
Many of the disabled clients in those cabins will probably have been recommended by and recruited from the Shriners Hospital for Children, in Portland. The same no-cost rent also will be extended to caretakers and families of those clients. Coreson plans to share gifts of about $300 to disabled individuals and their entourages to use as spending money.
Regardless of whether a person is born with a disability or later suffers a disabling accident, in Coresons thinking the affected individual did not choose that destiny of severely limited life options. And the stress associated with it also strikes caretakers and family, who often are economically stretched with few opportunities for joy, let alone vacations.
Hence, Creating Memories was formed to meet that need.
Coreson, a pastor, fisherman, and packer in Alaska through the years, is adamant that what he hopes to be called Ashley Park will not be a camp, but instead a restful vacation spot for the disabled.
A quirk of Nature witnessed by Coreson in 1971 was the genesis of his driving empathy for the wounded. While walking down a coastline, he saw a pack of possibly one dozen seagulls viciously dive-bombing a wounded raven. Although that ravens death was sealed, two other ravens landed beside it while Coreson watched. The pair fought off the seagulls, then dragged their dying compatriot to cover in a pile of driftwood to die a peaceful death.
Speaking today of the disabled, Coreson says, I cant restore their bodies, but I can put a little light in their heart.
An early, consistent beneficiary of the Creating Memories project in its formative years has been Ashley Jensen. Born with cerebral palsy with limited mobility in one arm and her head, and an inability to speak, Ashley has caught fish on Wallowa Lake, been on turkey and deer hunts, and passed her boat operator license test with a score of 96 percent.
To date, Coreson has funded his vision thats included extensive remodeling work on the structures at Ashley Park by holding out a tin cup and receiving monetary and materials support from such entities as Pacific Power Corp.; The Wildhorse Foundation; The Sports Corral, in Joseph; and gifts from random individuals.
Now that the long-term lease has been signed, Coresons lobbying efforts should trigger promised monetary donations from such entities as Cabelas, Sportsmans Warehouse, additional grants from The Wildhorse Foundation, and other benevolent organizations.
During its first three years, Creating Memories has also been granted access to hunting properties at several locations throughout Oregon, has placed three handicap-accessible fishing boats with access to lodging near Brownlee Reservoir, and has struck an arrangement with Oregon State Parks to waive all park fees for Creating Memories events.
The program has no paid staff.
As the popular program has spread, Coreson repeatedly says, We have more demand than resources.
He hopes the signing of the long-term lease will stimulate a significant increase in resources.
And the home base for the fast-expanding Creating Memories experience will be at a scenic, quiet, 90-acre spot bordering the Eagle Cap Wilderness at the south end of Wallowa Lake.