Going fishing is often a simple matter of gathering rod and reel and heading to the nearest river or lake. That is, unless you are in a wheelchair.
Uneven ground and rocks can make the short distance to water’s edge a treacherous, near-impossible journey.
If Darrin Umbarger gets his way, people with disabilities will have a safe and obstacle-free place to fish within Pendleton city limits.
Umbarger, who has multiple sclerosis, runs the Clearview Disability Resource Center with his wife, Carol. The nonprofit helps people with disabilities live more complete and successful lives.
Umbarger plans to transform a pond near the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution into a place that people in wheelchairs can navigate.
Gale and Eileen Marshall this month deeded over the three acres of land where the pond sits to Clearview for the project. The Marshalls have allowed public access for years. The pond sits in Pendleton’s industrial area west of Lippert Components on Westgate Drive and is visible to motorists driving west on Interstate 84. The public often uses two roughhewn docks on the western edge of the pond for fishing and birdwatching.
The idea of transforming the pond into a wheelchair-friendly place originated first in the mind of Donnie Cook, then the city’s park and recreation director. Cook, a fisherman, worried about people with disabilities not having the opportunity to fish.
“I’m an able-bodied person and I still have trouble getting down to the river sometimes,” he said. “There’s no place for them to go.”
He mentioned the pond to Umbarger as a possible place for an accessible fishing dock. The pond, he told Umbarger, already had signs inviting people to fish.
Umbarger, who loves fishing and once owned a fishing tackle company, wasn’t a hard sell. When multiple sclerosis invaded his life at age 23, he found ways to keep fishing. The 53-year-old uses an iBot wheelchair with gyroscopes and two sets of power wheels to cruise over rough ground. An 18-inch battery-powered Aviva Fishin Buddy trolls his fishing line and hauls in his catch. However, Umbarger knows not everyone in a wheelchair has the resources or will to pull this off.
So, it didn’t take long for him to catch Cook’s vision. Umbarger contacted Gale Marshall.
“I had a sit-down with Gale and said, ‘It’d be kind of nice if we could make that pond handicapped accessible.”
His vision included a dock leading to a floating platform. There would be edges to prevent wheelchairs from rolling off and railings on which to rest fishing poles. The area would include handicapped parking spots and a paved pathway to the dock. The project could also include a handicapped-accessible blind for birdwatching. The pond would also be open to other members of the public.
When Umbarger gets excited about something, his enthusiasm is infectious. Marshall soaked it in. He and his wife talked it over and readily agreed to allow the improvements. Then they went one step farther. Not only would they allow the development, they would deed the property to Clearview.
“Elaine and I talked about it,” Gale said. “The problem with us owning the land is the difficulty in getting grants and funding for the improvements.”
Help has come from other quarters, too. The city of Pendleton is waiving permit fees and will help pour concrete for a pathway and also create the handicapped parking spaces. The county donated the services, too. County surveyor Matt Kenny surveyed a partition plat necessary when partitioning a larger tract of property. Umatilla County Planning Director Bob Waldhers helped with city applications.
Umbarger must find funds for the project. A solar-powered aerator will cost about $5,000. He must finance the handicapped accessible dock and platform. Those wishing to give donations can drop them at the Clearview office or mail them, he said.
“We’re a 501(c)3, so it’s a write-off,” he said. “If someone donates a platform or a party barge, they can take it off on their taxes.”
Umbarger marvels at the generosity of the Marshalls and how smoothly the pond project has gone so far.
He sat in his iBot near the edge of the pond on Friday morning and looked out across the water at dragonflies, cattails and a little island. A kingfisher flew overhead. A fish jumped.
Contact Kathy Aney at email@example.com or 541-966-0810.