2018-07-11 / Community View


Persons with disabilites afforded opportunity to enjoy boating, fishing

Saturday evening prior to the start of the fireworks show in Otter Lake my wife Maria and I were treated to a pleasant boat ride around the lake by Al Sorge, founder of Barrier-Free Boating. He pointed out interesting features and structures built around the lake, including several buildings deep in the woods that used to house an orphanage.

Saturday was a beautiful summer evening, a great time to be out on the water on one of the better weekends all summer — warm, sunny and with low humidity. In a word, perfect!

Sorge (see page 2B for photo) was the perfect host and guide, and offered us a great opportunity to learn more about Otter Lake and Barrier-Free Boating. Sorge and Barrier-Free Boating keep their large 22-foot pontoon boat at a floating dock located at the Otter Lake Village Park.

The boat is custom made to accommodate wheel chairs. Barrier- Free Boating is a non-profit organization operated by Sorge and his family and supporters so that physically disabled individuals and their families, veteran’s groups, group home residents and youth organizations have an opportunity to enjoy boating and fishing who might not otherwise get the chance. And it’s always free of charge.

On Saturday we shared the ride with Otter Lake resident Jason Shann, who easily and comfortably accessed the boat on his motorized wheelchair. “It’s a lot of fun,” said Shann.

It certainly was.

The boat is designed to accommodate up to three wheelchairs and a maximum of 1,550 lbs. Barrier-Free Boating operates May 15 through Sept. 30.

The unique boating and fishing destination is located at the Otter Lake Village Park that includes a campground, boat launch, beach, picnic area and a pavilion. Handicap accessibility includes sidewalks, bathrooms and specialized tables and grills. The Village of Otter Lake generously donated shore space so Barrier-Free Boating was able to construct a custom built, wheelchair accessible fishing platform for its boat and fishing platform — a perfect place to cast for hungry bluegills and other panfish. Anglers may even land a large bass or pike off the fishing platform or from the deck of Barrier- Free Boating’s comfortable pontoon boat.

Barrier-Free Boating was made possible thanks to financial support of the Lapeer County Community Foundation and The Filippis Foundation that awarded it a $2,500 grant in June 2014 to purchase a pontoon boat trailer to allow it to take their boat to other area lakes and provide its service at various events hosted by organizations dedicated to the disabled.

Barrier-Free Boating is primarily funded by donations. It began operations in 2013 by raising $50,000 from private donors and organizations. The money was used to purchase the pontoon boat and construct the dock and fishing platform.

With little in the way of corporate sponsors to float this outstanding cause, Sorge and Barrier-Free Boating couldn’t do what they do without the generosity of people who dropped money into a collection bottle at Saturday’s ‘Let Freedom Ring’ festival. Tax deductable donations may be sent to: Barrier Free Boating, Inc., 13510 Blueberry Lane, Otter Lake, MI 48464.

For more information, to schedule an outing or to support the organization, call 810-656-2054 or visit their website at www.barrierfreeboating.org.

Thanks Al for the boat ride and the experience. It was a pleasure.

Until next time, be well and I’ll see you around.

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