Disabled Adventure Guide Honored By State’s Outdoor Writers Association

The following is courtesy of the Outdoor Writers Association of California:

Oxnard, CA  May 20, 2020 – Lori Gray of Berkeley has been named Californian of the Year by Outdoor Writers Association of California (OWAC), the state’s largest organization of outdoor media professionals. The award honors individuals who strive to improve the environment and save fish and wildlife in California. 

“Winning this award will hopefully focus more attention on disability and perpetuate a discussion about equal access for people of every ability and reality,” said Gray, who describes herself as multi-disabled: vision-impaired, asthmatic, and epileptic. For the past 20 years she has worked with Bay Area Outreach & Recreation Program (BORP), which provides active outdoors activities for the disabled. “As someone who’s been impacted in such a positive way by nature, I hope people can understand that the outdoors can be enjoyed by everybody regardless of one’s disability.”

BORP connects people to nature and to their communities by offering outdoor recreational activities, group adventure trips, and urban outings suited for all ages and abilities. “When we first started we were doing 12 trips a year—hiking was a lot of it, plays, food, bowling—whatever I could think of,” said Gray. “In 2018, we did 110 trips including East Bay regional parks, rock climbing at Berkeley Iron Works, mini golf, and more.” 

Gray said what she does is “fight and challenge,” in spite of her disabilities. At 16, she started rowing on rafting trips and at 18 became an assistant guide with a partner who was post-polio. “He was the eyes—good at reading the water—and I was the muscle. It was great fun and very exciting.” Prior to BORP, she worked 23 years with Environmental Traveling Companions (ETC), which offers whitewater rafting and camping trips for people with disabilities. 

The Californian of the Year Award includes a $300 stipend to be donated to the organization of the winner’s choice. Gray selected Access Adventure, which operates on 2,000-acre Rush Ranch Farm on the northern edge of San Francisco Bay owned by Solano Land Trust. “We have been working with Access Adventure for more than 12 years doing carriage rides both at Rush Ranch and camping trips to Point Reyes—the opportunity to go farther than we’re able on our own because of the trails or wheelchairs,” she explained.

Access Adventure was founded in 2005 by Michael Muir, great-grandson of acclaimed naturalist John Muir. The organization provides outdoor adventures and recreation on modified horse-drawn carriages to people with disabilities. Michael Muir was the recipient of the Californian of the Year award in 2014. 

The Californian of the Year Award was established in 1993 by OWAC, which was founded in 1985 and is comprised of newspaper and magazine staffers, freelance writers, book authors, bloggers, internet journalists, photographers, broadcasters, editors, and media professionals covering fishing, hunting, downhill and x-country skiing, snowboarding, winter sports, bicycling, camping, birding, boating, water sports, wildlife watching, camping, and other outdoor recreation. The non-profit organization offers media professionals support, collaboration, and networking opportunities with other experienced outdoor communicators throughout California and the western region. Working professionals passionate about the outdoors are invited to join and are eligible to attend conferences, and enter OWAC’s prominent Craft Awards contest. OWAC also offers Sponsor, Retired, Provisional and Student memberships.