Visitors with mobility problems have been given a unique opportunity to access the trails around Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. There are now motorized chairs available to rent with multi-terrain capabilities meaning they can finally get around the park more easily.
The chair has treaded tracks rather than wheels meaning it can easily tackle the steep and sometimes sandy paths in the park. The scheme is run by Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes, a voluntary organization, with the aim of making sure that everyone can enjoy the beauty of the park.
This is the first of such initiatives to take place at a national park.
Making Dunes Accessible
Sleeping Bear Dunes has over 50% of its area designated as wilderness so they are unable to do anything to increase accessibility. The solution has been to provide a vehicle that can take the person to experience the trails as they are, obviating the need to make any major alternations.
At present, the track chair program is based on the Bay View Trail. This 1.5-mile trail takes in meadows, historic farms and heads up onto a bluff where visitors can take in views of Lake Michigan. It is hoped that the track chairs will soon be available on more trails in the park.
Currently, there is a single chair available which must be booked ahead via reservations but it is hopefully being joined in late summer by a chair suitable for children. The main issue is cost, with the chairs costing over $14,000.
However, the chairs are available free for use by visitors and can carry a total weight of 350lbs. Around a dozen people have already taken advantage of the chair since it went into service in June. The chair is used for 2 sessions each day with time for recharging in between.
The group has been working closely with the National Park Service to make sure that the park becomes more accessible to people at varying levels of ability. One of the new features is the provision of hard decks on beaches to give access to wheelchair users or parents with children in strollers.
There is also an accessible kayak launch and a new, multi-use trail some 20 miles long is currently being constructed.