How Hunt 2 Heal provides free, accessible opportunity to spend time outdoors

Carson Nyenhuis understands the healing power of spending time outdoors surrounded by nature.

Nyenhuis, who has always loved nature, wildlife and the outdoor sports that go with them, was injured in a 2016 motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. His injuries created physical barriers and significant mental health challenges. 

“After my accident, I got really depressed,” says the Grandville resident. “Luckily, I had friends and family who stayed close and noticed. One friend threw me over his shoulder and carried me into the woods to the hunting blind. That evening changed my attitude. I forgot about all my injuries and pain. I had a moment that helped me get a renewed outlook on life, and I wanted to figure out a way that I could help others have a similar experience.”

H2HHunt 2 Heal founder Carson Nyenhuis with a guest of the accessible hunting lodge.

The Grandville resident credits the support from family and friends for helping him to re-engage with activities that brought him joy and restored his emotional well-being. These experiences led him to start Hunt 2 Heal, with the mission of providing accessible, safe, comfortable outdoor experiences to people with physical disabilities at no cost and to improve mental health. It became a registered nonprofit in 2019.

“Watching the deer walk through the woods when it doesn’t know you’re there is a cool moment,” Nyenhuis says. “It’s hard to explain. It grounds you on a spiritual level – whether that’s to God or the earth. Watching the deer walk up made me realize that life is great.”

Program is growing

Hunt 2 Heal has created a barrier-free lodge on 640 private acres of hunting land in Lilley Township, in Newaygo County, about an hour north of Grand Rapids. 

H2HHunt 2 Heal has created a barrier-free lodge on 640 acres in Newaygo County.

The program will hold hunting weekends this fall and other events throughout the year. The hunting weekends offer three days and two nights of hunting, meals, bonfires and other activities. 

While the opportunity is available to all, an application and selection process has been implemented because hunting weekends are limited.

“We've been adding on a whole bunch of stuff, like a fishing weekend for four guys plus their families and friends," Nyenhuis says. "We originally took out, I think, nine hunters a year, and now we probably take out 15-plus.”

A visit to Hunt 2 Heal includes a big cookout and bonfire.

The group also sponsored a mushroom-exploring event. 

“The program continues to grow because of word of mouth,” Nyenhuis says.

Most of the guests are adults, but programming is expanding to include children.

“We do crafts and shoot guns and bows and paint racks and all that fun stuff that kids like to do,” Nyenhuis says. “But also one of the first two weekends is a kids’ hunt weekend.

“We try to get everyone that would benefit from it to come up. We like having kids there because they seem to find joy in it very easily.”

Land had been in his family

The hunting land was bought by his grandfather in the 1970s, but the family hadn’t used it for decades. Nyenhuis asked his grandfather if his nonprofit could use the land.

“I gave him a business plan on what I wanted to do and how I thought it would work out, and he approved it,” he says. “He leases it to us for nothing a year. His family contributed to putting together a lodge.”

Work on Hunt to Heal started in 2018 when Nyenhuis put together the business plan and started assembling the board.


“It was during COVID when we started," Nyenhuis says. “After a whole bunch of work, we built the building up there. Obviously it took us a while, and then after that I hired an executive director to help us get the ball rolling with a lot of the detailed stuff and some of the nonprofit area.”

Executive director Kim Monks says Hunt 2 Heal had its first hunting season in the fall of 2021. 

“Since then, we’ve had five whitetail hunts a year, a spring turkey hunt, other non-hunting weekends like fishing, and a family summer retreat,” Monks says. “Not only is our program a benefit to our guests with disabilities, but also to their caregivers and/or families who attend with them. It’s a respite for all.

“We’ve had over 40 people with disabilities benefit from a weekend at Hunt 2 Heal and an even larger number of caregivers, friends, and family that have come along to learn new ways of doing things with their loved ones that they may have thought were no longer possible.“

Nyenhuis had been working for his family dealership doing finance, but has stepped back to focus on the nonprofit.  He is its director of community engagement.

“I'm so fortunate I have family and friends around me that helped me out,” says Nyenhuis. “But there's so many people who don't go to therapy, and they hardly get to leave the house. Getting out in the woods seems darn near impossible for them.

“So I'm doing it for the people that need it the most. I raise money throughout the summer and the year and take them for free. They spend so much on medical bills and everything else like that. I understand that, so we make it very accessible. The lodge is set up for people in wheelchairs.”

‘Amazing experience’

Corey Wobma says visiting Hunt 2 Heal, where he can hunt and then hang out around the fire, has reconnected him with passion for the outdoors. 

“We all come out of the hospital thinking hunting isn’t going to be practical anymore,” says Wobma. “That facility just kind of proves you're wrong the way that it's set up.” 

He has become friends with Nyenhuis after visiting the hunting and camping grounds. Now, he occasionally accompanies him to make fundraising presentations. 

“What they got going on up there is absolutely awesome, very therapeutic for just about anybody. It's set up for anybody and everybody and all different injury levels too, which is kind of a cool part,” Wobma says.

He was introduced to Nyenhuis through his sister, and applied to take part in a hunting weekend.

“Not only is the facility super accessible all the way around, but even the trails and the paths and the guides, the blinds were all super accessible,” Womba says.

“It was a pretty amazing experience. You kind of forget about everything that you got going on. It's so accessible. There's no steps anywhere. You don't need help to get anywhere. They all know how to kind of handle you. You're never made to feel uncomfortable up there.”

The accessible lodge is well designed.

“It's a really cool atmosphere. After the hunt, they do a big cookout and a big dinner for everybody, and then they usually spark up a bonfire,” Womba says. “Everyone hangs out around the fire. We all kind of talk and compare stories. Everybody that goes up there usually ends up being friends of some sort, which is cool. It just kind of connects everybody in the community that we're in. We kind of need that.”

He discovered a love of hunting in middle school through a friend's dad. 

“I loved hunting and fishing, and became a pretty avid hunter and fisherman through my friends. It's my absolute thing,” Womba says.

Helped his recovery

He had a motorcycle accident five years ago at age 29.

“I laid my motorcycle down and I slid into a guardrail. I am paralyzed at (vertebra) T7, mid chest, just like Carson,” Womba says. “We have a lot of things in common. That's why we hit it off the way that we did.”

He credits his 4-year-old daughter for helping him focus on his recovery.

“The day before my accident, my girlfriend and I announced we were having a baby, and then my accident happened. I had about five months to get up and moving after my accident when I was released from Mary Free Bed, before Elliot was born,” Womba says.

H2HCarson Nyenhuis with a guest in the Hunt 2 Heal lodge.

He and his girlfriend ended up splitting up. Determined to be able to help care for his daughter, he put himself on the fast track to recovery.

“I actually have 50% custody of her now,” says Womba. “She's essentially been my motivation, and has kept me out of a hole that I feel like a lot of people can get into after life-changing events like I had,” Womba says. “One of those things that will help people pull me out of that hole is hunting and getting back to doing things that I like to do.”

He likes to hunt with a crossbow, and has been able to find adoptable crossbows that he can use.

“I love hunting. It's definitely one of my favorite things to do. The cool part about Hunt 2 Heal is going up there. You see how they do things and they're set up. It's very inspirational to see the ways that it can be done and the different things that are available out there to help us get back and out and about in the woods.”

The first step to taking part in one of Hunt 2 Heal's free events is filling out an application

Photos courtesy of Hunt 2 Heal.

This article is a part of the multi-year series Disability Inclusion, exploring the state of West Michigan’s growing disability community. The series is made possible through a partnership with Centers for Independent Living organizations across West Michigan.
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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.