The Stephen J. Wampler Foundation has reached an agreement to purchase a new home for Camp Wamp, an outdoor wilderness adventure camp for children with physical disabilities.
Previously a Girl Scouts of Northern California camp, the larger, 129-acre wilderness facility is at Deer Lake in the high Sierras near Lake Tahoe. The real estate transaction, which is being financed by a donation from an anonymous Arizona couple, is expected to close in July, pending final inspections.
A tax-exempt nonprofit organization, Camp Wamp has been in seasonal operation at another Northern California site since welcoming its first 24 campers in August 2004. The organization has grown over the past 16 years and now sponsors approximately 250 children in five camping programs each year.
This summer, the Wampler Foundation plans to retrofit and renovate the newly acquired campsite that includes 13 buildings and a 34-acre lake, and which is slated to host its first group of campers in the summer of 2018.
Camp Wamp founder Stephen J. Wampler, who was born with cerebral palsy, uses an electric wheelchair for mobility. He has no use of his legs and only minimal use of one of his arms. Wampler first attended a wilderness summer camp in the high Sierras of California when he was 9, returning for eight more summers until he aged out of the program.
He earned a degree in environmental engineering from the University of California at Davis, and three years later Stephen met and married his wife Elizabeth. The Wamplers have two children, Charlotte and Joseph.
Despite his responsibilities as a husband and father and his career as an environmental engineer, Wampler dreamed of reopening the summer camp he had attended, providing more children with disabilities with an opportunity to benefit from the camping experience he had found so valuable.
Wampler started a fundraising campaign, and was happily surprised by the level of support and donations the effort generated. He established the original Camp Wamp organization in 2000 to provide outdoor recreation programs for children with physical disabilities such as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and spina bifida, at no cost to their families.
The young campers experience a sleep-away week of camping under the stars and are offered a variety of outdoor activities, such as fishing, canoeing, singing around the campfire, hiking, making new friends, and participating in “survival challenges” that encourage teamwork and self education.
“Saying goodbye is never easy, but knowing Camp Deer Lake will continue to be a magical place for children who otherwise have limited access to camp experiences eases the sadness,” Marina Park, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Northern California, said in a press release.
“Once the sale is completed, we look forward to working with Camp Wamp to explore opportunities for Girl Scouts with disabilities to attend the camp, and as well as the potential for Girl Scouts to volunteer at the camp.”
Stephen Wampler said camping when he was a child made all the difference to him as an adult.
“Being able to be a normal kid and do things like camp, hike, fish and swim during the summer showed me early on it is OK to dream the way all children should,” he said. “This new campsite gives us the opportunity to expand access to this important life experience to campers from all over the United States and the world, and we especially look forward to welcoming Girl Scouts in the very near future.”
Continuing to lead by example, in September 2010, Wampler tackled what is considered one of the greatest rock climbing challenges even for able-bodied climbers — he became the first person with a disability to scale the vertical rock face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, which is twice the height of New York City’s Empire State Building.
Using a specially designed climbing chair and pulley system, and by an estimated 20,000 tugs on a pull up bar, Wampler was able to advance two to six inches per tug. During the six days and five nights of his climb, he endured extreme temperatures, seizures, hallucinations, severe dehydration, and periods of unconsciousness, along with battling mental and physical fatigue.
His amazing feat is documented in a 2013 film, “Wampler’s Ascent,” by Wampler’s filmmaker wife, Elizabeth. It has a 100 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a rating of 8.9 on IMDb. The film can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjJlb_YhntQ.
The official film trailer is here:
To find out more about the Wampler Foundation, or to make a donation, visit http://www.wamplerfoundation.org/.