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Muir scion helps bring 'access' to Suisun Marsh setting - Fairfield Daily Republic

SUISUN CITY — Michael Muir has not let a diagnoses of Multiple Sclerosis stop him from enjoying the outdoors, even if it is from his wheelchair.

The 68-year-old’s love of horses keeps him ticking along just fine. Over the past 55 years, he has represented the United States four times in world and international championship carriage driving competitions, winning medals and championship honors in Germany, Austria, France and Great Britain.

He also founded Access Adventure in 2005, enriching the lives of people with disabilities, injured veterans, at-risk youth, senior citizens and children with special needs. His program provides the opportunity for therapy through educational, outdoor activities.

The program also provides people with disabilities of all ages the opportunity to ride and learn about recreational carriage driving and therapeutic driving. Access Adventure provides youth programs and specialized educational opportunities relating to preservation, ecology, wildlife habitat and rangeland management.

His work doesn’t stop there. He breeds the Stonewall Sporthorses at Rush Ranch headquarters on Grizzly Island Road, which has created a livelihood for him and an adventure far beyond what he could have dreamed.

“Horses have been central to the quality of life for me,” Muir said. “I’ve done a lot of fun things because of them and been able to share that, which is important.”

Muir was diagnosed with MS at 15; it has waxed and waned for him but has never daunted his spirit.

He was in the Dixon 4-H when his attention was drawn to horses. He asked his father if he could get a horse; his dad agreed. To make enough to buy his first horse, he sold his 4-H sheep.

“The first mare was pregnant,” he said. “I sold more sheep and eventually got six mares.”

Since then, Muir’s list of accomplishments would take up a solid page of paper. Needless to say he has made a life for himself with adventure and fun.

He is the great-grandson of America’s visionary conservationist John Muir, and is just one of a long line of adventurous outdoorsmen and women who trekked through the United States.

Muir led an international team of carriage drivers with disabilities in 2001, driving wheelchair-accessible carriages more than 3,000 miles from California to the White House in an epic journey that took more than nine months to complete.

“Until recently, I wasn’t in a wheelchair that much,” he said. “But I’ve had some falls and at my age that isn’t a good thing.”

So for safety sake, Muir uses the wheelchair while tending to his horses.

Muir gives wheelchair-accessible wagon rides at Rush Ranch from April through October. He uses Thornlea Carriages built by Jerry and Barbara Garner in Wabash, Indiana.

“Some people come here and then want to learn to drive a wagon,” Muir said.

It makes him happy to see people with disabilities branching out of their comfort zones to try something new and difficult.

“When you’re in a wheelchair, you don’t hike,” he said. “Horses are my partners and compensate for my lost functions.”

Muir thinks that is about the best thing that a horse can do – being useful by giving people a higher quality of life.

“My life wouldn’t be possible without horses,” he said. “I’ve had an active outdoor life because of them.”

His working relationship with Solano Land Trust has allowed him a partnership that made many of his accomplishments possible, too.

“They let me keep the horses here without a fee,” he said. “It works great because the horses bring in people.”

His breeding program helps to fund Access Adventure and his all-volunteer staff of about 50 people make it all work out.

“I don’t have a lot of overhead and that is helpful,” he said.

Muir recently added a 6-year-old stallion, Tesla, to his mares. He will be on loan for the breeding season.

“His human owner is pregnant, so I’m going to look after the stallion and do the breeding here,” he said. “It will save her a lot of extra cost.”

Muir is excited about the prospect and looking forward to new foals. He also hopes to attract additional volunteers to help sustain the community outreach.

Part of something bigger

Muir’s Access Adventure and related activities are only part of what Rush Ranch has to offer.

Nestled on 2,070 acres off Grizzly Island Road, Rush Ranch offers a closeup look at Suisun Marsh and educational activities. It’s located 2 miles south of Suisun City on Grizzly Island Road.

Owned by the Solano Land Trust, the ranch hosts a blacksmith demonstration, interpretive hike and volunteer improvement day monthly. The Rush family established the ranch in the late 1800s. Historic buildings such as an old ranch house remain.

An event known as Get the Rush takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. the third Saturday of the month. The event allows participants to travel back in time by entering a traditional blacksmith shop where guests can try their hand at making an iron nail or other keepsake, view Little Bear’s table full of Native American tools and decorations that he made by hand, and take part in a guided walk alongside the tidal marsh and through upland grasses. Participants can take part in guided walks alongside tidal marshlands and through upland grasses.

That’s in addition to rides in Muir’s horse-drawn wagon.

The ranch is located within the Suisun Marsh, which contains 10 percent of the state’s remaining wetlands, as well as sloughs and upland habitat.

All about education

There’s a strong educational component to the activities at Rush Ranch, much of it under the auspices of the Rush Ranch Educational Council – a nonprofit that, among other programs, brings hundreds of schoolchildren in third and fourth grades to the ranch each year to learn about nature in a natural setting.

The program is designed to meet third- and fourth-grade California History/Social Studies education standards and teaches children about the aboriginal peoples who were seasonal residents of the land that eventually became Rush Ranch, the Patwin Indians.

The program takes place in an area on the ranch that would have been utilized by the Patwin as a village site – at the edge of the Suisun Marsh. Rush Ranch Educational Council docents use historically accurate tools and materials to demonstrate the different aspects of Patwin daily life and how the tribe was able to thrive by using only what was available to them seasonally and by practicing resource conservation.

Children are divided into small groups and are rotated through six different stations – each one of which focuses on a specific area of Patwin daily culture, providing hands-on activities for the children to gain first-hand experience with native Patwin life.

The program takes place from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Tuesday mornings during the school year. There is a small fee for each student, but teachers and chaperones are free.

Reservations for the Patwin Program open at midnight July 1 and are usually booked completely by Aug. 1. Teachers who are interested in bringing their class to Rush Ranch for the Patwin Program should send an email to [email protected] and include their name and contact information; their school’s name and district; how many students and their grade; and first, second and third choice of dates to attend.

The Rush Ranch Educational Council is also responsible for the Get the Rush open houses.

More to see and do in the Suisun Marsh

Also located within the marsh is Grizzly Island Wildlife Area, a 115,000-acre Suisun Marsh showplace.

Much of the land is owned by 150 duck clubs and is off-limits to the public. The 8,600-acre Grizzly Island Wildlife Area, 10 miles south of Suisun City, is open. Owned by the state Department of Fish and Game, it provides a place where people can hunt, fish and bird watch. The state also owns other land in the marsh that forms what it calls the 14,300-acre Grizzly Island Complex.

On Grizzly Island itself, visitors can see such sights as tule elk, ducks, otters, herons, California clapper rails and many other types of wildlife. The Department of Fish and Games grooms land behind levees to grow vegetation favored by waterfowl, flooding and draining these areas at certain times of the year.

Some historians say the name “Grizzly Island” comes from grizzly bears that long ago traveled to the area from Mount Diablo to eat rosehips and other vegetation.

Joice Island is a 2,150-acre property in Suisun Marsh that has been a state wildlife area since 1931, making it one of California’s first refuges.

The island is managed by the Department of Fish and Game as part of its Grizzly Island Wildlife Area. Joice Island allows less public access than Grizzly Island itself, which has the Department of Fish and Game headquarters. Waterfowl hunters can hunt on Joice Island during the duck hunting season by reservation only.

Joice Island, located about 4 miles south of Suisun City and Highway 12 near Grizzly Island Road, is also the site of the annual wild pig hunt. Hunters during the spring can get permits to help control the wild pig population there.

The Department of Fish and Game headquarters at Grizzly Island Wildlife Area is located at 2548 Grizzly Island Road.

Future plans take flight

Plans remain active for the $75 million, 65,000-square-foot Pacific Flyway Center in the Suisun Marsh along Interstate 680 in Fairfield.

The center, which is in its design and planning stage, would be built on about 50 acres of what was a portion of the Garibaldi Ranch, tucked into a triangular piece of land east of Interstate 680 and south of the east-west section of the Cordelia Slough.

The project is the vision of former Oakland Athletics owner Kenneth Hoffman, who founded the Pacific Flyway Fund in 2015 to establish the center. It was originally meant to be built on Hoffman’s Golden Gate Duck Club, but that is considered primary marsh land. The new site is on secondary marsh land and is largely upland habitat.

The mission is to develop a facility at which the public can come to enjoy and learn about waterfowl and the marsh habitat, as well as the Pacific Flyway in general. More than a billion birds use the flyway, 6 million waterfowl in California, which stretches 10,000 nautical miles from the Arctic to Patagonia.

Some of the planned features include interactive elements inside and out, trails through enhanced habitat, a bird aviary featuring species from the southern end of the flyway as well as a butterfly aviary. It also will have a food center and retail shop, a birds-eye theater and entertainment facilities, as well as a number of vistas.

“We know of no place like it anywhere in the country,” said Michael Sutton, spokesman for Hoffman and the Flyway Fund, in describing the project.

He likens it as the Monterey Bay Aquarium of the Suisun Marsh.

If the facility does become a destination center, it will add significantly to the 2018 estimated tourist economy of $789.5 million in the county, according to Visit California.

That generates $66.3 million in Solano state and local taxes, and represents 9,200 jobs, Visit California reports.

More information:

Glen Faison and Todd R. Hansen contributed.

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