Healing place for heroes
Lehigh Valley couple’s camp aims to help veterans, first responders
The owners of Lehigh Valley Sporting Clays regularly host shoots for people with disabilities. What Bill and Laura Bachenberg discovered is that many also are interested in exploring the outdoors, but don’t have the connections or resources.
“A lot of our target shooters were interested more in the outdoors or getting access to hunting or fishing, any of the outdoor activities that we all take for granted,” Bill Bachenberg said. “The state doesn’t have [much] land that is accessible. They don’t manage the State Game Lands for accessibility.”
Two years ago, the Bachenbergs purchased an 1,800-acre property in Lackawanna and Wayne counties that the married couple set up as the nonprofit Camp Freedom. They use the forests and fields for guided experiences for veterans and first responders with disabilities and their families. The programs are free and incorporate more than 100 volunteers.
Camp Freedom opened last fall and almost 50 first responders and disabled veterans participated in the programs in 2018, including Alex Douglass, the state trooper who was wounded by a sniper shooting in 2014 at the state police barracks in Blooming Grove. In that shooting, Eric Frein shot and killed Corporal Bryon Dickson II and wounded Douglass.
“Alex is acting as a spokesperson for us, talking about what Camp Freedom has done for him,” said Matt Guedes of Palmerton, the camp’s executive director. “He does that on a volunteer basis and has been spectacular for us.”
This year, more than 230 veterans and 50 first responders, as well as 150 family members, have used the facilities.
Guedes said working with the entire family is a primary focus for Camp Freedom because everyone feels the impact when a veteran or first responder suffers a disability.
“That’s a big point for us because the veterans and first responders have the traumatic experiences, but the family goes through the exact same experience, but from a different perspective,” Guedes said. “So, we are trying to be complete with the entirety of the family.”
All the outdoor activities are guided. They include hunting for turkey, deer and bear, as well as fishing on two private ponds and casting for trout on the Lackawanna River, which passes through the property. There is also camping, hiking, biking, cross country skiing and the Bachenbergs are working on building a rifle range, 3-D archery range and sporting clays facilities. In July, the camp hosted a fishing derby for first responders and their families, with more than 100 people attending.
Guedes and Bachenberg said Camp Freedom wanted to give first responders an outdoors resource.
“When you think about the first responders, most of them are volunteers from the fire company or small police departments, EMTs and they don’t have any of the resources of the Veterans Administration behind them,” Bachenberg said. “They go home from watching a family burn up in a car they couldn’t get to and they don’t know how to deal with it.”
Guedes saidCamp Freedom participants often form “buddy teams” with people who have been through similar experiences, and it’s in those groups where a lot of the healing takes place. Guedes and Bachenberg said they hear positive stories from individuals who have been through the outdoors programs.
“Our guys and our ladies get a little bit lost because of what they’ve seen and … in many cases the pattern is isolation, drugs and alcohol, leading to desperation,” he said. “They’re losing their families, their jobs, everything.
“I do believe outdoor adventures is what has saved lives. That’s what we’re seeing happen. We’re seeing lives literally being saved.”
Bachenberg said interest in Camp Freedom is growing and the first Lehigh Valley guests will participate this fall. On Sept. 22, Lehigh Valley Sporting Clays will hold a Cast & Blast fundraiser to support Camp Freedom’s programs. Anyone interested in sponsoring or taking part in the event, which includes continental breakfast, catered lunch and fishing on LVSC’s private, 32-acre pond or a round of sporting clays, can learn more at www.lvsclays.com or by contacting Lori Strohl at [email protected]clays.com.
For more information on Camp Freedom visit www.campfreedompa.org.
Sporting Clay shoot to raise funds for child abuse prevention: Sporting clays enthusiasts are invited to take aim for child abuse prevention when the Western Lehigh Exchange Club Foundation holds its 12th annual Clay Shoot Sept. 13 at Lehigh Valley Sporting Clays in Coplay. The event, which starts at 8 a.m., costs $750 for a five-person squad or $150 for an individual single shooter; several sponsorship opportunities are also available.
Each shooter receives 100 clays, shells, food and more. To register or learn more, visit www.westernlehighxc.com or contact John DeSanto at jde[email protected]
Mark Demko is a freelance writer for The Morning Call.
Camp Freedom, founded by Bill and Laura Bachenberg of North Whitehall Township, offers angling programs for veterans and first responders with disabilities.