Camp Wandu

It’s taken me several days to let this thought wash over me.  It is a place I would like to be and something I will never tire of doing for the rest of my life and this is the legacy I want to leave.  I pasted everything to a new document, outlined the questions and answered simply.  Outside my window a sparrow is sitting on one of the fence rails feeding it’s chick.  Sparrows don’t dream, do they?  The live and eat and breed and carry on the species-their own legacy.  There are two chicks now.  I love watching birds with their children-but that’s not my dream.  That is one of the simple pleasures that I indulge in at every opportunity.  Did you know that cardinal daddy’s care for the chicks, not the mom.  Most of one afternoon and for several days after, at the house where I last lived I watched a papa teach 3 fledglings about the bird feeder in my front yard.    It was fascinating to me.  That’s not my dream either, but when I achieve it I hope to have many, many more opportunities to enjoy the birds and other wildlife.

Around Jan 2009 I began writing to a soldier who was on active duty in Iraq, named Antonio.  We became friends and are friends to this day.  He was the 9th soldier that I supported via a non-profit organization Adopt-A-Platoon (adoptaplatoon.org) and he wrote me every day that he could, even from a warzone.  In the 4 years I have been writing to and supporting soldiers I’ve become keenly aware of what they sacrifice in order to serve.  My heart however, has devised a plan to give them some respite once the service is finished. 

Some time before I started writing to soldiers I became involved in horse rescue when a local farm here had over 200 animals seized due to neglect, 68 of which were horses.  I eventually adopted two of them and share my day and energy caring for them and riding one of them.  There are many organizations who are caring for the needs of abused and neglected horses.  Over the years many people came to us wanting help finding placement for “good old boys and girls”, these are the 20+ year olds who have been ridden, pulled carts and stood in the pasture waiting for the family to notice them.  These are also the horses who have performed, run cattle, worked on dude ranches, horse riding stables and carriage rides.  They are now past their prime, some are suffering from arthritis or injury but most still have some fire in their belly.  These are the go to guys and gals anyone, anytime they can take care of themselves and their riders.  They been there, done that, wrote the book, sold the t-shirt, did the world tour.  These are the horses most rescue places won’t touch because they haven’t been mistreated, they are just an inconvenience to their owners now or mom and pop passed on and the kids have sold the farm, so there’s no place to keep Silver;  “you know we really want to do right by him, we just can’t [use excuse #24].  I don’t blame the families though, we are in very difficult times, horses are expensive and this is a difficult decision to make  .  They’ve exceeded their “useful” life and there are only a few options for them.  There options are find a new home (which are few and far between), euthanization or sale.  Many people still opt to take their treasured and aged horses and ponies to sale.  Sale has improved in the last 20 years and thanks to the work of some radical rescue people they now at least take action to prevent mistreatment, ensure that horses aren’t drugged for quick sale and are humanely transferred.  Yet, if these treasures are not sold to someone who will appreciate their experience, they are bought by the pound ($/lb) and driven hundreds if not thousands of miles in cramped trailers to slaughter.

Having become aware of both issues, it’s my dream to combine them at Camp Wandu.  Last year I went on the first (for me) annual women’s only canoe trip with a group of friends.  Every year they stay at the same cabin site for 3 nights, cooking out, eating and canoeing.  The cabins are beautiful and these are what I imagine for my dream.  Here are links to the cabins (Pinicon Ridge Park:  http://www.mycountyparks.com/County/Linn/Park/Pinicon-Ridge-Park/Activity/Cabins.aspx Pintail cabin interior:  http://www.mycountyparks.com/County/Linn/Park/Pinicon-Ridge-Park/Facility/Cabin-Pintail.aspx or google “pinicon ridge, ia” to see more photos inside and out)

Camp Wandu is a horse retirement facility paired with a soldier respite facility located near (park/recreation area) with access to camping, fishing, canoeing/kayaking, hiking, horseback riding, bicycle trails and photography stands and are available at no cost to soldiers who have served on active duty in a war zone at any time in their life.  It is a respite place to come for up to 4 weeks to fellowship with other soldiers while enjoying a relaxing atmosphere.

In exchange for staying at no cost to them guests will be expected to contribute to the good of the unit.  Caring for the horses, barn cats and an occasional stray dog, stacking hay, cleaning up and special projects such as maintenance or building new cabins, fences, enclosures and camp sites as needed.  Cabins will be built with the most current sustainable building practices available and set up with basic needs, 2 or 3 sets of bunk beds in each will sleep 4-6 with additional sleeping on the covered porch and camp sites.  Each will have it’s own fire pit, shower and bathroom facility, stove and refrigerator and a few cupboards, running water and electricity.  Guests will have a moderate cubicle for their possessions in order to keep the cabin tidy.  Camp sites may have electricity or may have only a fire pit, possibly both.  I would also like to have some bicycles available for riding at the main cabin as well as a larger shower/bathroom facility for campers.

The main cabin will have a first aid station, 2 meals will be served here bringing campers in to meet each other and socialize.  There will be a lounge area, with a pool table, television or 2, a DVD/Blue Ray player, cable and internet stations.  Ranger information about the area, resources to learn about horses and the efforts of the BLM to make the American Mustang extinct as well as efforts by a handful of individuals to keep them free.

Camp Wandu is set in the rolling hills of Iowa (?) to start and the horses graze the hill where they will eventually be laid to rest in a horse graveyard, under a large oak or willow tree.  The horses will receive comfort care for their final years, most will still be fit enough to ride or drive and can be taken on short trips or “adopted” to new forever families.  The therapeutic benefits the horses and soldiers will provide each other are incalculable.  This has been done for handicapped and abused children and adults with great success.  I can see multiple camps being developed around this concept with access to some of the greatest unknown parks in the nation.

In order for this dream to happen there are a few basic things that need to fall into place.  I need at least 100 acres of land donated to the cause, close enough to access a public area that allows trail riding and the other mentioned sports/activities.  Before I can accept any donated horses I need a barn complete with an isolation and recovery area for new horses and a small veterinary care area with stocks and a couple of stalls, appropriate pasture(s) fencing and a veterinary/farrier fund.  Funding is also needed for the cabins and camp sites.  This is a big dream and I can already foresee that the demand will be greater than the resources, so it will be critical to be frugal with every available resource.

What have you done about it so far?

This was a timely question.  For some time now I thought I would have to wait until the “big” moment when I could start working on this plan and then I realized you have to start today, with what you have at your disposal, keeping your focus on the goal and opening your hands and heart to the will of God to bless you with your hearts desire and to listen for His direction and timing.  I have hosted several people from Warm Showers (warmshowers.org) and also registered with Couch Surfer (couchsurfer.org) and recently added this to my profile “Welcome to Camp Wandu – now hosting vagaonds, hobos and other life travelers.”

What is keeping you from making it a reality?

Fear.  Fear of greatness.  Fear of success.  Fear is also the catalyst that makes me hold on to the dream, keeping a vision of the future in my mind and drawing it nearer and becoming clearer every day.

I plan to have a small cabin of my own tucked into the corner of the property so I am close, but not intrusive on the life there.  I want to travel the world and see every country there is to see, staying with people along the way and getting to know and appreciate their differences and sharing in their lives.  Ironically, traveling will probably be easier.  Camp Wandu will be a good place to come home to.

I have a 20 year old son who over the years has brought home many bedraggled houligans to be tended and set straight up on their feet again only to leave my home and be on their way.  I refer to these houligans as my 2nd sons and 2nd daughters.  There are many of them and the list continues to grow.  Recently one of my long lost 2nd sons came to see the horses with his girlfriend and their child.  He spent the day with us and helped unload and stack 170 bales of hay into storage.  We rode one of the horses (there are 4 on my section of the property), laughed at each other and caught up on old times.  At 20 years old he’s already had a bit of a rough road, has 3 children-2 estranged and has lived across the united states in more places than I can even remember.  When I hugged him goodbye, he was still that little 8 year old in my heart.  Before they left he said to me “I remember, you always said you would have horses again and you do.”  Seeing is believing.  You have to see your dream, want your dream and pursue your dream every day and one day you turn around and you are standing in it laughing at old times when it looked impossible

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