Friday, August 31, 2001

Blind rafters savor river

Free ride opens up a new world

By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT ANCIENT — If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the afternoon sunshine on the Little Miami River is worth at least a million.

        Or so it seemed to 25 blind rafters from Greater Cincinnati, who navigated the river Thursday at Morgan's Canoe & Outdoor Center at Fort Ancient.

        “Hunker up!” yelled Gary Morgan, the expedition leader, whose family owns the business and provided the free trip.

        “Oh, this feels so good!” a woman said as the sun kissed her shoulders.

        Several people at a time tentatively stepped across the sides of four inflatable red and green rafts, and sat down with a collective thud.

        “I won't splash right away,” said Monica Runyan of Roselawn.

        “Gee, thanks,” said her husband, Dennis Runyan.

        Thirteen years ago, the Morgan family decided to offer free rafting trips to people who wouldn't ordinarily be able to go out in canoes. They included the blind, other disabled people, the elderly and young children.

        “It's a great way to put your personal troubles into perspective,” Mr. Morgan said.

        Before walking to the river, he used a boom box to play cassette tapes of cardinals and other birds chirping, so that the rafters (and 30 volunteer sighted guides) could identify sounds on the river.

        “Now, that's an oriole singing right there,” Mr. Morgan told the group.

        “If so,” yelled one man, “then he'll probably be yelling, "Strike!'”

        The outing was organized by the Cincinnati Association for the Blind, a private, nonprofit group that offers many services to the community. Spokeswoman Jane McGraw said the trips are fondly remembered.

        Georgia Deaton of Newport, one of the blind adventurers, said she had been excited about the trip for days. She did it three years ago.

        “It's great recreation,” she said. “Last night, I dreamed that I was afloat out on the river.”


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