For disabled travelers: Sunset Pines Resort

cabinAbout 25 percent of all U.S. families contain at least one person with a disability. The number of people with disabilities is expected to double in 20 years because of aging baby boomers.

No minority group is larger. Diminished sight, hearing, mobility and cognitive ability are the result of aging, accidents, genetics, bad decisions and more. Although the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees equal opportunity for people with disabilities, travel remains a challenge for many people and reasons.

This is the first in a series about efforts that address the issue.

I am reading Dale Petkovsek’s fan mail, and one mother begins with this: “An accessible wonder. Our daughter was able to wash dishes here.” It’s not your average vacation commentary.

Kitchen counters and sinks for travelers are rarely of a height convenient for wheelchair users. “We had a grand time fishing, kayaking, building birdhouses and exploring,” the parent’s note adds.

“We have traveled to many places for the disabled,” writes a couple from a Chicago suburb. “We found your resort the most accessible place we have ever stayed at. The house is so spacious. We were able to relax and even had friends visit. The trip around your lake was great,” and so was the stargazing.

Attention to detail at the three cabins that are Sunset Pines Resort in Clark County is no accident. Dale, the designer, relies on an electric wheelchair because of a teen roadside party that went awry in 1978. He was run over by a friend’s car and left a quadriplegic, two months after high school graduation.

“That changed everything,” he says.

Instead of taking over the family farm, two miles away, Dale spent 1.5 years in rehab and then studied business in college. When the neighborhood tavern went up for sale in 1983, he took a leap of faith and bought it.

“Yeah, I was jumping into a business,” he admits, “but this was my home area and I had the support of family and friends.”

Dale’s North Mound Tavern sits in the dust of a gravel road, six miles northwest of Willard, serving pickled eggs, hot chicken gizzards, hearty sandwiches, a salad bar on Fridays and no fancy language on the menu.

The “Mexican Thingy” resembles a tostada. The “Busy Farmer Sandwich” is an English muffin with two sausage patties, a fried egg and cheese. Free refills on milk were available during June Dairy Month.

“We’re basic and family-oriented,” the owner says.

On walls and mantles are mounts of hunted critters: a black bear, big-rack elk, mountain lion and more. “Most are what wives don’t want hanging in the house,” Dale deadpans.

The resort exists because of his personal frustrations with travel. Motel bed height and a lack of open space underneath are lesser-known issues. Dale transports a body lift to get in and out of bed but says he sometimes can’t use it when away.

He wondered how many people shared his irritation, then decided to do something about it when the right property came up for sale, near the tavern. As a teen, he hunted on the 80 acres that became Sunset Pines. “It was the right terrain – no hills or cliffs,” but pleasantly rural and rich with wildlife.

A 4.5-acre pond was dug from a former cow pasture and stocked with fish. A renovated house and two cottages each have two bedrooms and open designs that avoid hallways, steps and thresholds on doors. Wide doorways, ramps and all fixtures put the disabled traveler first. So do wood or low-pile carpeted floors, a gas fireplace, wheel-in showers and sturdy but cozy lounging furniture.

It is the same outdoors, where a fishing pier, all paths and a mile of forested trails are wide enough and firm enough (in dry weather) for wheelchairs or an auto. A ramp leads into the water of a private beach. Add swings, a sand box and park shelter for parties.

Cash flow challenges growth, so the tavern is for sale and the resort since 2004 has operated as a nonprofit entity.

“A lot of our clients are city people,” Dale says. “Even to just get in the woods is a big deal.” The property is rented by the cottage or in its entirety. More cottages could be built if money becomes available.

“I took a lot for granted before my accident, and that happens unless you have a family member” in similar circumstances, he contends.

For more about Sunset Pines Resort, W9210 Rock Creek Rd., Willard:, 715-267-6989. Rates begin at $70 per night for one person, but discounts sometimes are available to income-strapped people with disabilities.

Rock Creek Disabled Outdoors organizes a deer camp for disabled hunters at Sunset Pines in October. Three hunting blinds in the resort’s woods are handicapped accessible; surrounding acreage also is used during this event, which attracted 77 hunters in 2012.

Dale’s North Mound Tavern is at W8902 Rock Creek Rd. Outdoor barstool races require snow “and it’s something to do in winter,” Dale says. Each stool is mounted on skis and racers slide along a hillside, without ski poles, to see who goes farthest without toppling. 715-267-6989

One mile from the resort is Mead Lake, which is fished for bass, panfish, walleye and musky.

Amish farms dot the Willard area, and that means occasional signs for cottage businesses that sell plants, furniture and more.

Also in the neighborhood is The Christine Center, W8303 Mann Rd., a nondenominational and 125-acre sanctuary for spiritual growth. Upcoming seminar and retreat topics include yoga, meditation, prayer and religious/spiritual studies., 866-333-7507.

North Hendren Co-op Dairy, W8204 Spencer Rd., specializes in blue-vein cheeses. One of three types of fried cheese curds at Dale’s Mound Tavern uses this factory’s blue cheese., 715-267-6617

Twenty miles north of Willard is Holland’s Family Cheese, N13851 Gorman Ave., Thorp. The farmstead cheesemaker’s Marieke Gouda Mature was grand champ at this year’s U.S. Championship Cheese contest, and it is sold at the farm gift shop. Plans are under way to expand the operation to include an area for visitors to watch cow milking and cheesemaking., 715-669-5230

About 25 miles northeast is Munson Bridge Winery, W6462 Bridge Rd., Withee., 715-229-4501