QUINCY -- Grace Meyer understands more than most the lack of accessible outdoor activities for people with disabilities.
She's tipped over in her wheelchair and landed in a pond, tipped and nearly fallen down a steep hill and had to be carried to enjoy activities with friends.
The Quincy High School senior loves to camp and enjoy the outdoors at Camp Sacajawea with family or fellow Girl Scouts, but the uneven terrain is a challenge for anyone in a wheelchair or with mobility issues.
She plans to make a difference with a project at the camp, and along the way, she hopes to earn the Gold Award, Girl Scouting's highest honor.
"I feel like I've done some good for the community, which is actually a pretty good feeling to have," Grace said. "A lot of people don't know how good it will feel if you do something good for the community."
Plans call for adding trail that meets Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines from the front parking lot of the camp's lodge around to the fire ring area in the back, a concrete pad around the fire ring complete with benches, a table and a wood stacker, a second sidewalk from the concrete pad to the deck and sunshades to the deck.
"All of those things will make the camp even more accessible to people who have a disability," said Barb Baker Chapin, director of development at Transitions of Western Illinois. "Transitions owns the property, but we don't have really any source of regular funding to maintain and enhance the camp. When we have volunteers do projects like Grace is planning, it's wonderful."
The camp, which is open to the public and located just south of Quincy, emphasizes accessibility with its parking lot, restrooms and a 2-mile trail. But reaching the fire ring behind the lodge or anywhere to camp is difficult for people like Grace, who has spina bifida, epilepsy and other health issues and uses a wheelchair.
The project's $10,000 to $12,000 price doesn't worry Grace, who continues to raise money and build awareness of accessibility issues.
"This is not just going to benefit some Girl Scouts. It will benefit the community as a whole," Grace's mom, Anne Meyer, said. "I hope that Transitions gets good use out of it. They have their program for people with disabilities."
There never was any doubt that Grace would be a Girl Scout -- or that she'd follow in the footsteps of two of her four older sisters to earn a Gold Award.
"You grew up a Girl Scout. You even had a bib that said 'Future Girl Scout,' " said Meyer, who has been a Girl Scout her entire life and was one of the first to earn Scouting's highest honor.
An Ambassador Scout, Grace is the last member of Troop 5060, which started at Washington School and now is based at Quincy High School, and does activities with another troop also launched by her mom at Washington School.
Grace will focus on fundraising and overseeing the project to completion sometime next month before school starts, leaving the construction work to family, friends and area businesses pitching in to help.
"Grace (has) been through a lot. She's had over 60 different surgeries, and people have helped her a lot," Meyer said.
The community's support extends to Grace's Girl Scout cookie sales, some 2,500 boxes every year, and this is way to give back.
"It makes me feel like I've done something good for people with disabilities," Grace said. "For people who (said) we should do something about lack of accessibility in our community, I've done something about it."
How to Help
Grace Meyer has planned two fundraisers to support her Operation Trail of Freedom project at Camp Sacajawea.
A bowling event will be from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 21, at Casino Lanes, 1201 N. 20th. People can bowl a game and enjoy a light lunch for a minimum donation of $5.
A spaghetti dinner will be served from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, July 27, at St. Francis Solanus Parish Center, 1721 College Ave. The meal cost $5 per person and will include spaghetti, salad, garlic bread and dessert.
More information about sponsoring or making a donation to Grace's project is available by contacting Anne Meyer, Grace's mom, at 217-779-2489. Checks to support Operation Trail of Freedom may be mailed to Mercantile Bank, 200 N. 33rd, Quincy IL 62301.