Being the great-grandson of the "Father of the National Parks," Michael Muir says the wilderness is in his DNA.
Muir remembers summer treks into the high country behind Yosemite National Park using mules and horses on trips to the cabin that his famous forebear John Muir kept in the Sierras.
Michael continued to spend time outside with his horses after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 15.
But his refusal to let disability keep him from the outdoors and the fact that he's John Muir's descendant isn't the reason the Outdoor Writers Association of California named Michael Muir its 2014 Californian of the Year, an award he'll be accepting Sunday at the association's autumn conference, which is being held in Del Norte County this year.
Ten years ago, Muir settled on a 2,070-acre historic farm on the northern edge of San Francisco Bay owned by the Solano Land Trust. With help from volunteers, Muir founded Access Adventure, which provides a gateway to the wilderness for those who may find it hardest to get outdoors due to limited mobility.
"We really serve a broad range of people," Muir said. "Including children with developmental disabilities, special needs students, at-risk youth, people who might not be considered disabled but just elderly. People who might have difficulty accessing hiking on a trail or even climbing aboard a wagon."
Using special horse-drawn wheelchair-accessible vehicles with wheelchair lifts capable of taking on heavy power chairs, Muir and his volunteers lead excursions into remote areas. Muir said he was leading a trip to Paradise in Butte County before heading to the writer's conference.
Even though many trips are fairly distant, Muir said that since the ranch is so large with miles of hiking and wagon trails, much of the work is done at the organization's home base. He said he also visits the veterans at the Yountville Veterans Home.
Muir said he's also working on a new project dedicated to helping disabled veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He will embark on a wagon journey from Murrieta in Southern California to Florida in November.
"They're struggling to reintegrate into society and find a new way of living," Muir said of the young veterans. "We're here to show them there are bridges to the things they might want to do that they may think are out of their reach. We want to show them that it's still in their reach. They might have to do things differently, but there's still opportunities to challenge the limits of their disability."
Muir said he will travel along the Butterfield Overland Mail trail until he reaches El Paso. He'll skirt the Gulf of Mexico in the Deep South all the way to Florida.
"A lot of people are signing up from all over the world," he said. "We have people coming from Holland and France and from England. I've heard from one young man who's from Siberia and wants to go."
Yvonne Graham, executive director of the Outdoor Writers Association of California, said she suspects Muir was chosen for this year's Californian of the Year award because of his work with Access Adventure.
"We nominate anyone who has contributed to outdoors California in such a way that would help someone else," she said. "It can be in any way, shape or form. Any way that one person could have made a difference in other people's lives as they use the outdoors for whatever good."
Muir's work with horses extends beyond helping the disabled. Muir said his struggle with MS had once left him paralyzed from the neck down. But he was able to recover.
Muir said he is trying for a place on the U.S. Equestrian Team to go to the Paralympics in 2016. He hopes to compete in dressage on the para-equestrian team.
"I've been four times to Europe, to World Championship events representing the U.S. in the carriage-driving competition for disabled people," he said. "This will be the first time I'll do it in the saddle."
Muir compares his own determination to his great-grandfather's and his grandmother, Wanda Muir. John Muir, whowas raised by a strict father, wanted his daughters to find their own way in the world, his great-grandson said. Wanda Muir only received nine months of formal education, being homeschooled for most of her life, but she attended school at the University of California Berkeley.
"She's not well-known like her father, but her life's work was to see that there was a free hospital in every county in the state for indigent women and children," Michael Muir said. "There's a legacy of giving that comes through her and through her encouragement of her own children, which included a lot of foster and adopted kids. She always had a place at the table for anybody who needed it."
Wanda Muir also inherited a love of the outdoors from her father, Michael Muir said.
"She encouraged her own children to be adventuresome and give back," he said. "That comes through her father. That's something that is in the family. It's the way we've been brought up."
The Outdoor Writers Association of California's autumn conference starts on Saturday. Roughly 75 travel writers and other association members will stay at Lucky 7 Casino's Howonquet Lodge and will participate in outdoor activities in Del Norte and Curry counties.
For more information about Michael Muir's Access Adventure program, visitwww.access-adventure.org. To learn more about Muir's Overland Trail trek from Southern California to Florida in November, visitaccess-adventure.info/the-caravan.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org.