A chance to be kids in Eagle County | VailDaily.com

A chance to be kids in Eagle County

Katie Drucker
Eagle County, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyA group of kids dressed up and enjoying themselves at a Hole in the Wall camp.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” When Paul Newman passed away last week, he left a yet-to-be realized legacy in Eagle County.

Many people remember Newman as the handsome seven-time Oscar nominee and one time Academy Award winning actor. Others remember him for his road racing accomplishments. Then there’s his food company, Newman’s Own, which donated profits and royalties to charity.

But for thousands of children, ages 7 to 17 years old, suffering from chronic and life threatening illnesses, Newman will be remembered as the man who envisioned a haven that gave them the opportunity to rediscover what it means to be a kid. In a couple of years, Newman’s vision will expand to Eagle County and the Colorado River, with the anticipated opening of Roundup River Ranch.

In 1988, Newman opened the first Hole In The Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut, to enrich the lives of sick children by providing them with a free, fun camping experience with medical staff on hand. Twenty years later, the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps is the world’s largest association of camps for children with serious illnesses.

The association oversees 11 camps worldwide and is still growing. The next Hole in The Wall Camp, planned to open in the summer of 2011, will be located north of Dotsero and called Roundup River Ranch.

“These camps give kids, who might not have had the best luck in their lives, the opportunity to be a part of something very special,” says Anne Milmoe, Roundup River Ranch development associate. “What magic places these camps are.”

There are 35,000 seriously ill children in the region Roundup River Ranch will serve. Of that number, 15 percent will not have had the opportunity to go to camp. The region comprises Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.

The 85-acre plot of land in Dotsero was the selected location for Roundup River Ranch, due to its proximity to Interstate 70 and to the Eagle County Regional Airport. Its 6,200-foot elevation also made the site attractive because several serious illnesses are worsened above 6,500 feet, said Milmoe.

“We feel privileged that we are carrying on the legacy of Paul Newman and his need to serve children with serious illnesses, right here in Eagle County,” says Ruth B. Johnson, the executive director of Roundup River Ranch.

The campers will be referred to Roundup River Ranch by hospitals, doctors and social workers. Children’s Hospital in Denver is Roundup River Ranch’s first partner hospital.

“The kids are truly amazing. They are so brave and are so happy to have medical support around them that they can do things that normal children can do,” said Johnson.

Until Roundup River Ranch is ready to open its gates, children from the Rocky Mountain Region can participate in the Hole in The Wall Camp’s “On the Road” program and travel to other camp locations.

Over the past two summers 40 children from the Rocky Mountain Region have attended various camps. Abby Bridgewater, a 10-year-old Denver resident, who was diagnosed with cancer at age 7, is one such camper.

This past summer Bridgewater attended Victory Junction Gang Camp in North Carolina.

Her mother, Kristi, thinks that her daughter is much more confident, has developed passions, and made lifelong friends as a result of going to camp. Abby still e-mails back and forth with her roommate, a girl who lives in Texas. She also has taken up horseback riding, an activity she was first exposed to at camp.

“There are so many sick kids and more diagnosed every day,” says Kristi Bridgewater. “They need this community. Just to know that other kids have gone through what they are going through and they have survived.

“They just need to be normal kids.”

Bridgewater anxiously anticipates the opening of Roundup River Ranch.

“This more centralized location will be great. It will give a lot more kids the opportunity to go to camp,” she says.

Johnson and Milmoe point out that the construction and future opening of Roundup River Ranch would not be possible with out the donations that have already come to the project and that will be provided in the future. The campaign goal is to raise $20 million. So far $15.6 million has been received.

“We are so grateful for all the people who take their resources and donate so that these kids can go to camp,” says Bridgewater.

For more information on Roundup River Ranch (970) 926-2448 or visit http://www.info@roundupriverranch.org.

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