Parks departments around the nation are beginning to offer free all-terrain wheelchairs at their visitor centers so that disabled persons can explore the natural wonders of their states.
Such programs already exist in Colorado, Michigan, and South Dakota, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a unit of the National Park Service, has added off-road wheelchairs to its park’s services.
Some motorized all-terrain wheelchairs weigh 500 pounds or more, like a Caterpillar without the scoop and cabin. The tracks allow the vehicle to traverse obstacles such as tree stumps, dirt, snow, and more.
Colorado was the first state to begin the trend in 2017 with the introduction of the Staunton State Park Track-Chair Program, which gives free wheelchair access with the payment of the standard entrance price.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources later installed all-terrain wheelchairs at 12 state parks, boat launch areas, and trails.
The Washington Post writes that Georgia and Minnesota have just joined this alliance, with Minnesota recently concluding a trial program that tested chairs in five parks.
“We want to create an unforgettable outdoor experience for everyone, not just those who can walk,” said Jamie McBride, a state parks and recreation area program consultant with the Minnesota DNR’s Parks and Trails division.
People have told us that this event is life-altering.
As they are expensive assets, Minnesota has only five chairs, and they encourage phoning in advance to reserve their use.
The dozen or so “Action Track” chairs used by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources were acquired by Aimee Copeland, who in 2012 lost several limbs to a flesh-eating bacteria during a zip-lining accident.
Copeland’s infirmity did not prevent her from enjoying the outdoors, so she formed the Aimee Copeland Foundation, which recently raised $200,000 for 11 chairs to gift to the Georgia DNR.
“I began this out of my own inner motivation. “It’s fantastic to see how many individuals, not only those with disabilities, share my interest,” Copeland told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
If I did not have access to the outdoors as a space for healing and growth, I would not be the person I am today.
She claims the chairs are suitable for any activity, including hunting.
Her goal for the same endeavor is to target North Carolina. Here, interested people can take a certification training on how to travel difficult terrain using the Georgia chair.