written by Lindsay McWilliams featured photo by Chip MacAlpine


I can’t afford expensive outdoor gear. I have arthritis. I’m too old. I have a disability. These are common excuses from people who feel they can’t do outdoor activities suck as kayaking, rock climbing or skiing. Valid as they may be, Adventures Without Limits wants to eliminate all of these barriers.

The organization’s mission is to create inclusive outdoor recreation experiences for anyone who has the desire and the need. With adaptive gear and scholarships, Adventures Without Limits (AWL) takes elderly, disabled and underrepresented populations into nature to show them how to do what they didn’t think was possible.

adventures without limits

photo by Carly Schmidt

“Some of the youth we work with have never been on the river that’s in their backyard,” said Larz Stewart, AWL assistant executive director. “When they get out there, they’re just stoked. It’s neat to be part of that first experience that’s going to change their life.”

AWL, based in Forest Grove, was founded by Brad Bafaro in 1995 under an inclusive model, meaning those with special needs and those without special needs would recreate together and not be separated. What began as an emphasis on access for those with special needs grew to include other groups such as at-risk youth and seniors.

When it comes to guests with disabilities or injuries, AWL provides adaptive gear to make certain activities more manageable. An outrigger, for example, attaches to a kayak or canoe as a stabilizing device to minimize rocking back and forth. Sit-skis allow people to remain seated while skiing and adaptations for paddles make for an easier grip.

adventures without limits

photo by Katie Jack

The organization also offers scholarships so people of all socioeconomic statuses can participate. In fact, Stewart estimated that a quarter of the people who attend public trips are on some type of scholarship. AWL also breaks down cost barriers by providing all of the gear and outdoor clothing needed for excursions, such as snow boots, rain pants and base layers. Trips also include transportation to and from recreation sites in fifteen-passenger vans.

adventures without limits

photo by Ashley Borman

The staff at AWL generally leads two types of trips—monthly public adventures and custom trips. Public trips are open to absolutely anyone at a set rate of $75, which includes gear, guidance and transportation. Custom adventures can also be created to tailor specifically to a group with special needs, or just for the purpose of having an exclusive group trip. For example, businesses send their employees on trips with AWL for outdoor therapy or as part of a retreat.

As is the struggle of any nonprofit, funding is the organization’s biggest challenge. AWL has found ways to make money by taking large businesses on excursions and by renting out gear to the public. Companies such as REI and Columbia Sportswear have been generous in donating gear and clothing over the years.

Regardless of financial hardship, AWL pushes forward in its mission. “Our goal every year is to serve more people,”   Stewart said. “We’re here for those who need our services.”

 

Mark Your Calendar

AWL hosts the Banff Mountain Film Festival
February 6-13
Screenings in Portland and Salem
awloutdoors.org/events