A lifelong love affair with the Madison Valley and trout fishing combined with a penchant for improving real estate led to Frank’s partnership with longtime friend Peter Pauwels to create Camp Bullwheel.
Frank spent his early years in real estate gaining an understanding of the renovation business in Colorado. In the early eighties Bell heeded to the call of the river and was lured to the Madison Valley where he acquired the property. With a team of friends and neighbors of all ages the house morphed into a fish camp for wayfaring anglers that continued for over three decades.
By the late nineties Bell’s life had taken him in the direction of the equine. Recognized as one of the premier horsemen that specialized in taming the most difficult, known as horse whisperers, Bell found a way to give back to the horse community demonstrating his skills to audiences throughout the country while raising funds for equine assisted therapy programs.
That desire to give back has now morphed to offering the outdoor experience to special needs with an emphasis on his lifelong love of fishing. “Our goal is to give a quality outdoor experience and love of nature to very special people,” explains Bell.
A love of the outdoors began at a young age for Peter Pauwels. Creative right from the beginning, Peter fished with a hedge switch, thread, and a bent straight pin for bluegill. After his family moved from NYC to the Great South Bay when he was 12 he found an endless resource for fishing, hunting, and boating. He quickly learned the yearly rhythm of fish species that came through the bay from flounder, to fluke, snapper, weakfish and striped bass. Mussels, clams and blue claw crab were also plentiful and learning how to catch and gather this delicious and bountiful resource occupied much of his time providing for his family. Access was by boat and at that time a youngster could get an old boat, fix it up, and have miles of salt marsh and open water to explore.
After 10 years the population on Long Island increased dramatically and environmental decay from phosphate pollution killed the inland waterways. It has since been restored but the degradation of the habitat prompted a move west to attend college at Oregon State and Colorado State. Working his way through college, he studied an eclectic curriculum of engineering, ecology, agriculture, and therapy There the rivers captivated Peter. Ever adventuresome he built rafts and ran challenging rivers, often with friends with disabilities. Given Peter’s inclusive desire, he had quadriplegics paddling in the reflecting pool of the student union at CSU in his custom kayaks.
After college, fishing and floating took a back seat to family responsibilities but his two sons created a great opportunity to get out and teach them outdoor skills. During that time volunteer work at a local wildlife refuge developed into a project that became The Accessible Fishing Program at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. Coupled with Children's Hospital, Craig Hospital, and other rehab facilities, The Accessible Fishing Program was a great success and is still in operation after 25 years.
A volunteer opportunity at the Craig Hospital engineering shop began for Peter twenty-five years ago. This morphed into Peter developing adaptive equipment for fishing and shooting, creating many types of adaptive fishing rods, shooting systems, and boats. Now in retirement this effort is full time during the winter. Summer finds Peter on a variety of rivers throughout the west often hosting outdoorsmen with disabilities.
The current opportunity at Camp Bullwheel allows Peter to actualize the lifelong dream of making the outdoors accessible and creating success for outdoorsmen with disabilities.
In the words of Frank Bell, “Peter is the most selfless human being I’ve ever known. I am truly honored and humbled to have Peter as a partner in this project.”
Chris Clasby is originally from Conrad, Montana and now lives in Missoula where he works as a community social worker and is pursuing licensure as Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). He attended Helena High School where he met his soulmate and life partner, Mary Watne, before they moved to Missoula in 1992 to attend UM. Before graduate school, Chris and Mary lived in Kamiah, ID where he taught high school English and History for one year. Outdoor pursuits were one of Chris's activities while growing up, and he enjoyed wrestling and competed in rodeo from a young age through high school.
One month after high school graduation in 1990, Chris broke his neck in a car accident returning from a rodeo in Nevada and became a complete, level C4 quadriplegic with no arm function. He went to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado where the special and unique employees and other patients had a lasting impact on Chris's remaining life. The Therapeutic Recreation (TR) department in particular showed Chris to continue believing in possibility beyond expectation, especially with regard to hunting, fishing, and other outdoor pursuits.
Chris feels so blessed by the people (especially Mary) and technologies around him which have enabled him to earn undergraduate and graduate college degrees, work in multiple capacities, travel extensively, and especially continue hunting, fishing, camping, and just being outdoors. While working for UM's MonTECH program, Chris connected with Craig Hospital's Peter Pawels to develop an outdoor recreational grant project. Peter designed and built much adaptive equipment for the project, and they worked together with many others to provide floating and fishing opportunities for many, many individuals with disabilities on Montana's Clark Fork, Bitterroot, Blackfoot, Gallatin, Jefferson, and Missouri Rivers.
Chris was introduced to Camp Bullwheel (CBW) by Peter Pauwels and Frank Bell soon after the latter conceptualized the idea. Chris is excited to help with whatever he can contribute to the project, and looks forward to its long-lasting legacy of changing people's lives through recreational pursuits.
My name is Jackie Kirtley and I grew up in Ennis, Montana. I was born with Cerebral Palsy. I have lived my life disabled, but this has not stopped me from living a full life. I was married, and have a beautiful daughter, Kelli. After graduating high school, I worked in the private sector and for the United States Government for the next 40 years, primarily in customer service. I worked for the Forest Service for eight years. During that time, I sat on various committees, representing the disabled community, (employees within the service, and the general public). ADA made it possible for funding to build trails accessible to the disabled, offering the opportunity to connect with nature. After the trail was built, I would “hike” in a wheelchair to make sure it was not too steep, or the terrain was not too rough.
National Forests have cabins available to rent. Again, because of the “Americans with Disabilities Act”, it was possible to make cabins handicapped accessible. Once the project was started, the contractors would bring me to the sight. I would go through the cabin (in a wheelchair or walker) to test accessibility. I am very good at scrutinizing a situation, and if necessary coming up with a better solution (important, when you grew up the only disabled person in a very small town, decades before ADA).
I am honored to be part of this project- Camp Bullwheel and will be available to help in many capacities. I believe Camp Bullwheel will be a wonderful addition to the Madison Valley.
Growing up on the East Coast, Tom learned to fish and hunt at an early age. He attended Boston University and played a little ice hockey there, remained in Boston and worked for 9 years at IBM in the medical field. After a stint in the US Naval Air, he was fortunate enough to be involved in taking a financial services company public. He then left to start his own advisory firm, taking leave to build a 55 ft. Sailboat in New Zealand and with lots of help, bring it back to the US. He moved from California to Washington State, continued to do advisory work to individuals and corporations. Over his years in business, he served on many nonprofit boards. Tom then began fishing in the Madison Valley. Tom and his wife Sheri moved to Ennis full-time in 2013.
Camp Bullwheel just seemed like the right project to find great success in Madison County. Starting as a true grassroots organization by a few people with incredible vision and drive, it is a great way to give back to society. We want to especially share fishing and even hunting opportunities to those who normally would never be able to find their dream met with the beauty and recreational opportunities this area provides. There are wonderful plans for this great group of visionaries with expanded facilities that accommodate those with disabilities, including our veterans by opening up more fishing trips in the area.
Tyler is an alum of Craig Hospital where he first met Peter. Today, Tyler thrives as a specialist with Summit Independent Living in Missoula. During the CoVid pandemic he used the BullWheel engineering ingenuity to create a device that individuals with C3-C5 injuries can operate their wheelchair through an N95 mask. For Camp, Tyler works on the website and makes it out to test the "Fishinator" whenever possible.
Ty first got involved with Camp Bullwheel at Craig Hospital, helping Peter out in the rehab engineering basement. Alec, his good friend at college, was paralyzed from the neck down shortly after they had made a plan to float the Brooks Range in Alaska. Ty was guiding overseas during Alec's recovery, and Alec contracted Pneumonia before Ty returned to states and they could fulfill their plan to float the Brooks Range. Alec left behind a legacy of adventure and an always upbeat attitude that live on through our floats at Camp and in Ty's trips. As a veteran of the Air Force, Ty helps to hold space with Mike, the camp cook and retired Army Chaplain, for veterans transitioning and dealing with both physical and mental adaptations. Ty's background in guiding all over the world, engineering, and medical background help to formulate the nuanced structure of Camp as we expand operations.