Currently, seven state parks in Michigan provide track chairs, an off-road electric chair designed for people with physical disabilities. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources)
Tyler Urias said that the lack of wheelchair accessible facilities has prevented him from enjoying outdoor activities such as the beach near his home.
He said that when he really wants to go to the beach, someone must support him and pull him out of the beach or to the water's edge.
"It never worked," said Urias, 30, from Bari County. "This list can be continued until the obstacles and impractical points."
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is working to make outdoor recreational activities easier for wheelchair users such as Urias and people with disabilities who use the track chair program.
The track chair is an electric wheelchair with a special triangular pedal that allows users to better access the trails, beaches, wildlife and scenery of the state park.
DNR fund developer Michelle O'Kelly (Michelle O'Kelly) said that the track chair can provide the disabled or the elderly with the opportunity to explore areas they may not be able to explore.
"Making entertainment activities available to everyone is definitely the top priority of the department," O'Kelly said.
Urias said he plans to use one of the chairs in the next few weeks.
"As a person sitting in a chair, I think this has opened up a lot," Urias said. "I think there are many important ways to use them in the future."
Exercise chairs are provided on a first-come, first-served basis at seven locations: Belle Isle Park, Grand Haven State Park, Island Lake Recreation Area, Maybury State Park, Muskegon State Park, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, and Waterloo Recreation Area.
Users can bring chairs into state parks for free, but must first sign a disclaimer. The track chair can be used on trails, snow, sand and water up to 8 inches.
Paul Ecklund, an ADA expert and system advocate for the Disabled Network in Southwest Michigan, said that chair users are usually not able to navigate these rugged terrain.
"You have a beach mat to get you into the water, but you will never leave the mat, because once you do, you will be trapped," Eklund said. "They created certain types of chairs, such as beach chairs, but they are not so accessible."
The time and length of booking track chairs varies from park to park, so it is strongly recommended to plan in advance.
According to O'Kelly, the demand is also high. Grand Haven State Park received its track chair at the end of March, and 53 reservations have already been made.
O'Kelly said the program enables families to enjoy stress-free vacations with their disabled relatives and provides independence for its users.
"It gives people a little freedom and makes it easier to take their families out," O'Kelly said.
Kali's Cure for Paralysis introduced the track chair program to DNR in 2017. According to the organization's website, the purpose of creating Kali's Cure is to improve the lives of patients with spinal cord injury, and hope that one day a cure for paralysis can be found.
"They contacted us and said they wanted to donate these chairs, so they are the ones who really make the ball roll," O'Kelly said.
Kali's Cure donated five of the seven chairs that can be found everywhere in the state park. The other two chairs were donated by Aletha Goodale and the Family Foundation, Friends of Grand Haven State Park and Friends of Island Lake Recreation Area.
The average cost of a track chair is $14,500, so DNR is seeking community donations to be able to add more chairs to more than 100 state parks in Michigan.
"Any donation will not be too small," O'Kelly said. "It will definitely increase rapidly, and we have noticed that the impact of our funding is already beginning to show."
To reserve an athletic chair or make a donation, you can find more information on DNR's athletic chair website.
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