A Publication of WTVP

Out in the remote Midwest, between Middle Grove and Fairview in Fulton County, lies 101 acres that have afforded thousands of children and adults with disabilities the opportunity to experience the great outdoors. Camp Big Sky, which hosted its first campers in 2004, flew under the radar for a couple of years until they were sure they knew what they were doing, said Executive Director Brad Guidi. In 2006, confident that their operation was ready to handle growth, the camp welcomed more than 100 campers from three counties. Since then, Camp Big Sky has grown significantly—last year alone, it served more than 2,000 campers with disabilities and their families. And, says Guidi, they have much more growing to do as their facilities become more modern and word of the camp continues to spread.

The impetus for Camp Big Sky dates back to 1963, when Guidi made a promise to his younger brother, who had developed autism, become low-functioning, and passed away at the age of 12. His promise was to one day do something for people with disabilities similar to his brother’s, although at the time, he had no idea what that would be.

The answer would come more than three decades later, with his family’s 1995 purchase of old strip mine grounds near Farmington. When he took his own daughter, who has cerebral palsy and some developmental disabilities, fishing on the property, Guidi realized how difficult it was for people with disabilities to access the outdoors. Exploring further, he found surprisingly few places in Illinois where those with disabilities could connect with Mother Nature. After approaching his parents with the idea of creating a camp that catered to such individuals, the family established a non-profit organization called Why Not Now? Inc., and used the land to create Camp Big Sky.

Open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from the beginning of May to the end of October, Camp Big Sky offers both daytime and overnight camping opportunities. Trained staff members and volunteers are always on hand to facilitate activities like fishing, fossil hunting, lawn games, nature studies, recreational boating, kite flying, hiking, cookouts, arts and crafts, and campfires. They’re also present to make sure everyone stays safe. “We live and breathe safety at the camp every day,” emphasized Guidi. Because of this, no campers have access to the grounds without making reservations in advance. This allows him to schedule enough trained personnel to ensure that campers have safe, quality experiences.

Among a vast array of wildlife, Guidi said it’s not uncommon to spot river otter, bobcats, deer and wild turkeys at Camp Big Sky. “While our mission is to provide accessible outdoor opportunities, what we really do is create memories at the camp.”

Camp Big Sky is unique in that there is no charge to visit the camp during the day. Groups that stay overnight are asked to pay a flat $50 fee to help offset the costs of lighting the camp at night and having a staff member stay on the grounds.

Guidi emphasized that none of this would be possible without the help they receive from local businesses like Illinois Mutual, South Side Bank, Federal Companies, The Home Depot and Par-A-Dice Hotel Casino. “Even in these economic times,” said Guidi, “the Peoria community continues to amaze me in their level of giving. Their spirit of community support is just incredible.” Whether making financial contributions or volunteering time and skills, Guidi said that these and other organizations have quietly stepped up and exceeded his expectations in getting Camp Big Sky off the ground. “Without the support from…those folks, we wouldn’t be anywhere near to where we are now, and it’s doubtful we would be able to operate without charging campers,” he said.

With the help of its generous donors and volunteers, there are grand plans in the works for Camp Big Sky, including additional cabins and a new welcome center, which would include indoor toilets and shower facilities. The camp and its board of directors would also like to establish accessible hunting and ice fishing programs, which would extend the camp’s open season further into the fall and winter months. And with the implementation of these new programs and facilities, its service area—currently a 2.5-hour radius from the camp—would no doubt increase.

Welcoming any person of any age and disability that limits access to the outdoors, Camp Big Sky is a true gem of central Illinois. Go for a day or stay for the weekend, but remember to make reservations. For more information, contact Brad Guidi at (309) 258-6002 or [email protected], or visit