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Bishop Sunrise Rotary

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A Remote Sierra Nevada Restroom for the Disabled Brings a Community Together

Bishop, CA, October 04, 2007 --( 100 years after the newly founded Rotary Club started its first public service project, a public "comfort station" in downtown Chicago, a remote restroom in California's Sierra Nevada brings mountain communities together to help the disabled.

Eradication of polio, removal of landmines, or helping victims of disasters are just some of Rotary International projects today. Founded in Chicago, the heart of the American midwest, Rotary's very first project, started in 1907, was the construction of an "experimental" public restroom or "comfort station." The idea was to encourage women to shop at the downtown Chicago merchants . To do it comfortably, they needed a clean restroom with fresh water, something we take for granted today.

Now, 100 years later, members of the Eastern Sierra's four Rotary Clubs in Mammoth Lakes and Bishop, California, along with the United States Forest Service and Disabled Sports of the Eastern Sierra, have come together for something as simple as a restroom; to build Convict Lake Campground's only wheelchair accessible bathroom. Located at the edge of 12,268-foot Mt. Morrison's granite spires, Convict Lake is named for escaped prisoners that lost their lives here in 1871. On September 22, beneath grey skies and hail squalls, sixty Rotarians and friends gathered at Convict Lake to celebrate the groundbreaking for the new restroom and surrounding walkways. Guests were treated to lunch catered by Convict Lake Resort and Mammoth Brewery.

Many of the U.S. Forest Service campgrounds here, were built years before the passage of the American Disabilities Act. Though the restrooms are labeled "handicapped" it doesn't mean they are wheelchair accessible. Most do not have enough interior turning space, the toilets are too low, the sinks too high or exterior access is either non-existent or limited by steep grades and uneven or broken walkways.

Last year, Mammoth Rotarian, Terry Smutney, who served as a medic during the Viet Nam era with the US Army and is a volunteer with Disabled Sports of the Eastern Sierra, participated in an outdoor sports event for the disabled in Reno. Inspired to sponsor a similar event here, Terry went to each campground from Mammoth to Rock Creek only to discover that there were no wheelchair accessible restrooms. Unable to find adequate facilities, he rented portable handicapped toilets and brought them to McGee RV Park which is where the first Peddle-Paddle participants (all from Bishop) camped.

The lack of accessible facilities made it difficult for the participants of his Wounded Warriors program through Disabled Sports of the Eastern Sierra. Terry brings Iraq veterans, who have lost legs and arms in Iraq, to the Sierra from Balboa Naval Hospital where they spend a weekend enjoying outdoor activities and camping. "We get these folks while they are still in the hospital, before they've had a chance to get completely depressed. They are not prepared to enter civilian life with no legs and arms," Terry says. "This last November, a young man, 21 years old, fresh from Iraq, who lost both legs came with his wife and their 18 month old daughter. It was their first time outside the hospital since he'd been hit in Iraq. We kayaked on Crowley Lake and hand-cycled down Crowley Lake Drive. Being outdoors, seeing that they can have a chance to enjoy life gives them hope."

Terry, who was disabled when he returned to the Gulf in the early 1990s with the State Department, to help repatriate refugee Kurds to villages destroyed by Saddam Hussein's regime, had the good fortune of meeting Bob Durkee of Bishop last year. Durkee, also disabled, was the force behind the construction of the wheelchair accessible fishing pier at Convict Lake. The Durkees who attended Saturday's groundbreaking, also celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary that day.

Many from the communities of Mono and Inyo Counties have volunteered their services but more is needed. The group is still looking for a contractor who can tear down one existing interior block wall in the restroom and rebuild it with 2x4's or 2'x6' about a foot back from its present location to allow for a wheelchair to completely turn. Anyone interested in volunteering to the project can call Kathy Copeland in Mammoth at 760-934-6678 or Wynne Benti in Bishop at 760-872-1524.

Contact Information
Bishop Sunrise Rotary
Wynne Benti

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