By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 22, 2009
With its creeks, ponds and long Potomac River shoreline, Marine Corps Base Quantico has some of the best duck-hunting sites in Prince William County. A new partnership with the group Ducks Unlimited aims to make those sites accessible to all Marines.
Two wheelchair-accessible duck blinds for disabled hunters will be dedicated at the base Saturday morning as part of the Marine Corps' Wounded Warrior program for injured veterans and their families.
"A lot of Marines enjoy the outdoors, and we wanted to provide an opportunity for Marines who otherwise wouldn't have the chance to do this," said Col. Wade C. Hall, the battalion commander at the base. He's also an avid duck hunter and member of Ducks Unlimited.
Hall described Quantico as "an oasis of natural conservation" in Northern Virginia, saying that officials from the base have been working with biologists and conservation groups to expand and preserve habitat for waterfowl.
The idea for wheelchair-accessible duck blinds arose from those discussions, he said. Volunteers from Ducks Unlimited donated the labor and gathered materials, working with base personnel to build the wooden boardwalks that will take disabled hunters from a parking area to the blinds.
There, hunters can conceal themselves close to the water while staying as dry and warm as possible. The huts were designed for seated shooters, with extra-wide entrances and enough space to accommodate two wheelchairs.
Hall said he has spoken with at least three disabled veterans who plan to use the sites. "They've all expressed a desire to go out and hunt, and they thought they'd never have the opportunity."
Kristin Schrader, a spokeswoman for Ducks Unlimited, said the organization's mission is habitat preservation, which increases waterfowl populations at a rate far faster than the birds are hunted.
Black ducks, northern pintail ducks, bufflehead ducks and several other species frequent Quantico's waterways.
"Ducks Unlimited is behind wetland conservation, but we also believe in healthily managed waterfowl population," she said.
Schrader said her organization contributed $14,000 in services and materials for the two sites, with a third planned, seeing the project as a thank-you to the Marine Corps and disabled veterans.
"Losing the ability to go out and do something you love would really decrease your quality of life," she said. "We wanted to ensure [that wounded veterans] were able to continue to participate in the activities they really loved before they were injured."