Roger West, a recent patient with The Denver Hospice, left a living legacy — he opened the Colorado wilderness to those with disabilities, their families and caregivers. After his father had lost his ability to walk following surgery, Roger dreamed of building a trail to provide wheelchair access to Colorado’s colorful outdoors. He found the perfect place in Park County, Colorado. And he wasn’t about to let 9,200 feet of elevation stand in the way.
“Roger’s life mantra was to leave no one out,” his wife Byron says, “and he was both a great builder and a wonderful leader.”
Wilderness on Wheels, a facility located near Kenosha Pass, features a full mile of eight-foot-wide boardwalk as well as fishing ponds, camping sites, huts and cabins. The efforts of more than 3,500 volunteers giving 116,000 hours of time have paid off beautifully, as a recent summer saw more than 1,500 visitors enjoying the wheelchair accessible setting.
Byron was one of those early volunteers when she met Roger. It was in 1986, and she remembers “being pretty amazed at what they were doing.” The couple married the following year.
“Both he and his dad loved the wilderness so much, so he kept asking himself, ‘What happens when people are disabled?’ Roger felt this place could become a national model for how to preserve the wildness but not leave anyone out of the outdoor experience. And it has. The thing that pleased him most was seeing generations of people — young kids, parents, grandparents — fishing together and enjoying nature.”
Roger passed in November 2016 after a long battle with prostate cancer. The disease had progressed from normal to stage 4 in just six months. “He left at peace and ready to move on,” Byron states, adding that the decision to call on The Denver Hospice was instrumental in helping them to accept the situation.
“The hospice team got involved in July, shortly after Roger became unable to get out of bed. It was difficult. But they understood that what he wanted most was to be at home, and they helped make that happen. Overall, it was very positive. I learned a lot from them about where Roger was in the process, what he could and could not do, and what was likely to happen when. They helped me just be there for him…to not worry…to just talk.”
“Gary (Wiebel), the social worker, was here a lot. He intuitively knew what we needed. When Roger passed, our care team was immediately by our side. It was amazing for me to know that everything was taken care of.”
“My goal was to join them in their journey of hospice in a therapeutic, supportive way,” Gary adds. “To be able to come alongside them, provide individual support and help them share their experience with each other was very powerful. I was so inspired by Roger’s vision and motivation. It takes complete determination to build a boardwalk up a mountain so others can experience such a wonderful environment. I am so honored to have cared for him and his family.”
The Denver Hospice seeks to encircle those facing advanced illness with unprecedented levels of comfort, compassion and expertise.