Fall Fun at Upham’s Accessible Birding Event

This image shows the backs of 4 people as they look upwards using binoculars. One person is pointing.

Participants look for birds while exploring Upham Woods during the morning session.

On a crisp fall morning in October, community members flocked to Upham Woods to learn about birds in an accessible setting. The morning was filled with multiple naturalist-guided activities, from mobile birding on paved paths around Upham Woods to seated birding around a bird feeder. Two participants in these morning activities were friends, Monica and Sandy. The last time Monica had visited she was a girl scout, so she was excited to be back at Upham Woods. After finding flocks of dark-eyed Juncos in the grassy field and seeing nut hatches at the bird feeder, Sandy expressed, “I wasn’t expecting to see so many birds today and I had a great time walking around, although I could go for some warm coffee.” As Monica and Sandy left to find coffee, they shared that they hope Upham continues to offer events like this so that they can come back again.

After a morning outside, visitors settled into the lodge for a presentation by Lisa Hartman and her Turkey Vulture, Uncle Butzie. Lisa shared insights into the exciting world of turkey vultures as audience members asked questions and took photos. Did you know that sometimes turkey vultures eat so much that they can’t fly until they’ve digested some of their food?

Three people are next to each other smiling at the camera. The person in the middle is sitting in an outdoor wheelchair.

Donna, Debbie and Robin enjoy the trails and the fall colors thanks to the AAW Outdoor Wheelchair provided by Access Ability Wisconsin.

At the end of the day, visitors were encouraged to explore the grounds or stop into the Nature Center to experience birds through different senses by touching bird feathers and listening to recorded calls.

One group of friends that took advantage of the beautiful weather was Donna, Debbie, and Robin, who used the AAW Outdoor Wheelchair provided by Access Ability Wisconsin to explore the woods.  “We’ve been friends for over 10 years and this was the first time we could explore the woods together like this,” shared Donna, “I love this machine!”

Connecting More People to Nature - Access, Independence, & Dignity - Monica Spaeni, AAW President

Rachael Lewandowski-Sarette, On-Site and Accessibility Program Coordinator, and the team at Upham Woods Outdoor Learning Center approached Access Ability Wisconsin (AAW) about doing a presentation and having AAW’s equipment available at the center for programming with a variety of groups during the summer of 2022. “AAW is excited that Upham Woods wants to help us lead in sharing transformation thinking about access and programming,” explains Monica Spaeni, President of AAW. In addition, she adds, “They are also putting into practice disability, equity, and inclusion policy.  Upham Woods had one of AAW’s 24 outdoor wheelchairs (OWC) available at no cost, requiring a refundable $50 deposit for its programming.  These tread chairs can go where regular wheelchairs with skinny tires can’t go. Providing access to these “hiking boots” allows anyone living with a physical disability an opportunity to experience the dignity & freedom to enjoy the great outdoors solo & with family & friends, just like everyone else!

Access Ability Wisconsin™ (AAW) is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that is dedicated to facilitating & providing the means for individuals with mobility challenges including those living with physical disabilities to access & enjoy the outdoors, promoting equity & healthy living. An outdoor wheelchair with a trailer exceeds $25K. AAW clients have been daily wheelchair users, those with walking, breathing, or heart difficulties, kids, & adults from 21 to 101. The benefits are decreased feelings of depression & isolation, and increased feelings of independence & spontaneity. Results show lives are improved for individuals with a mobility challenge & their family. AAW’s goal is to have at least one AAW all-terrain outdoor chair (OWC) in all 72 Wisconsin counties.

Thank you to everyone who came out to this event. This free event was made possible through the University of Wisconsin–Madison Dean’s Innovation Grant to collaborators from Upham Woods Outdoor Learning Center, the Lake Superior Reserve, Wisconsin Sea Grant, and University of Wisconsin-Extension in Bayfield and Ashland counties. It was also supported by collaborators from Wisconsin Science Festival and Access Ability Wisconsin.

By Rachael Lewandowski Sarette,
On-Site and Accessibility Program Coordinator


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