Many Albertans love heading into the Rockies during the summer to spend some time sleeping under the stars, but for people with varying abilities, camping can be difficult or nearly impossible to do.
The William Watson Lodge in the heart of Kananaskis Country pushes to change that and make camping accessible for everyone. The lodge is run by the province with subsidized rates that make it affordable as well as accessible.
“I love to camp but I have not been able to for decades, but this place makes it so I can do that,” said Teena Cormack, who has been coming to William Watson for the better part of a decade.
Cormack is fighting multiple sclerosis and often uses a walker to get around.
The wheelchair- and walker-accessible cabins mean she can enjoy spending time in the wilderness.
“Camping is for everyone,” Cormack said. “Everyone should have that opportunity and option and this place allows it. It’s fantastic.”
The lodge could be K-Country’s best-kept secret. It’s been running since 1981 but still many people don’t know it’s there.
It was the brainchild of Peter Lougheed and his wife to offer a barrier-free space to enjoy Alberta’s beautiful backyard.
“It’s focused for folks with significant disabilities,” William Watson Lodge team lead Jill Jamieson said. “Whether its physical, cognitive or developmentally delayed, that’s our first priority. Our second priority is folks who have mobility issues or who are medically fragile and our third priority is for Albertans 65 years of age or older.”
Each of the eight lodges is completely accessible with kitchen counters and tables at wheelchair height and completely retrofitted bathrooms. There’s even a ceiling lift that can carry people with severe physical disabilities right from their beds to the shower and toilet.
Outdoors lies 20 kilometres of accessible trails and access to a local lake. There’s also recreational equipment on site, like adaptable bikes for summer and sit-skis for winter.
“Some people have been coming for years,” Jamieson said. “It is absolutely the special place in their lives.”
And that’s exactly what it is for Cormack, who plans on making this an annual trip to the wilderness as long as she can.