Parks departments across the country are beginning to offer free all-terrain wheelchairs at their visitors centers for disabled people to explore their states’ treasures of nature.
Such programs have already cropped up in Colorado, Michigan, and South Dakota, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a National Park Service unit, has also added off-road wheelchairs to their park’s resources.
With some weighing 500 pounds or more, the motorized all-terrain wheelchair is like a Caterpillar but without the scoop and the cabin. The tracks can allow it to go up or over some serious obstacles, such as stumps, mud, snow, and more.
The first state to set the trend was Colorado, who started in 2017 with their Staunton State Park Track-Chair Program which provides free wheelchair access with the regular entrance fee.
Later the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources placed all-terrain wheelchairs in 12 of their state parks, boat launching sites, and trails.
Georgia and Minnesota recently joined this group, with the latter recently-wrapping up a pilot program that tested chairs in 5 parks.
“We want to create an unforgettable outdoor experience for everyone, not just for people who can walk,” Jamie McBride, a state parks and recreation area program consultant with the Parks and Trails division of the Minnesota DNR, told the Post.
“People have told us this is life-changing.”
Minnesota have only five chairs, as they are expensive assets, and they recommend calling ahead to reserve the use of them ahead of time.
The dozen or so “Action Track” chairs used by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources were acquired by the drive and determination of Aimee Copeland, who after a zip-lining accident in 2012 lost several extremities to a flesh eating bacteria.
Avid outdoorswoman, Copeland wasn’t going to let the disability interfere with her love of nature, and so established the Aimee Copeland Foundation, which just recently raised $200,000 for 11 chairs to donate to the Georgia DNR.
“I started this out of my own inner passion. And to see how many people share my passion, not only people with disabilities, but everybody, is incredible,” Copeland told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
“I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t have the outdoors as a space of healing and growth.”
Indeed, she says the chairs are for any activity, even hunting.
Her goal is to target North Carolina for the same project. There is a certification course on how to navigate tough terrain in the Georgia chair.