2018-08-02 / Outdoors

Lakeshore moves toward accessibility

NEEF REPRESENTATIVE Sara Blount is pictured demonstrating an Action Trackchair, which Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes has purchased to improve park accessibility. NEEF REPRESENTATIVE Sara Blount is pictured demonstrating an Action Trackchair, which Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes has purchased to improve park accessibility. “Finding Your Park” is about to get a whole lot easier for visitors of Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore who have limited mobility.

After months of trial runs, grant submissions and brainstorming sessions, Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes’s (FSBD) has purchased an Action Trackchair for the use of park visitors.

“The goal is for everyone to have the same, or at least similar, experiences in the park as those who don’t have to think about accessibility,” said Jeanne Esch, chairman of the FSBD accessibility committee.

The all-terrain, mechanized wheelchair is expected to be available on a reservation basis later this year. An open house with the trackchair will be held in Glen Haven next Wednesday, Aug. 8, from 1 to 4 p.m. Trackchair demonstrations will take place on an outdoor course near the Heritage Trail across from the general store in the historic village.

“We’re taking this one step at a time,” said Kerry Kelly, chairman of FSBD. According to Kelly, availability of the trackchair to the general public is dependent on the ongoing installation of electricity in the Kelderhouse Farm, where the chair will be stored and its batteries recharged.

Once available, Kelly explained that there will be an online reservation system allowing volunteers to contact visitors to finalize arrangements.

“A volunteer will meet the user at the Kelderhouse to do some training about how the chair works and then go with them through the park,” Kelly said.

Having tested the trackchair himself, Kelly is optimistic about the success of the program.

“It’s incredibly intuitive and easy to use,” he said.

As for the potential of purchasing a second chair, Kelly said it’s possible.

“There would be big advantages to having two, because then one volunteer could take two visitors together,” Kelly said. “But it’s a big ticket item.”

Roughly a $15,000 acquisition, the trackchair was purchased primarily with funds received from the National Environment Education Foundation (NEEF), which sent representatives Sarah Blount and Emily Kamin to the park last month.

Blunt and Kamin’s two-day visit was aimed at seeing how the three grants that NEEF has awarded FSBD over the past five years have been used to further accessibility efforts. The most recent grant was for $17,000.

Esch said the National Park Service and FSBD were very pleased with how the visit went.

“They were really excited to see the accessibility programing that’s already in place and how their grant money has been leading to actual improvements in the park,” Esch said. “It’s hard to find organizations that fund the work that leads up to such improvements and equipment purchases.”

NEEF funded an assessment of park trails and beaches, which resulted in plans for beach decks at the Glen Haven beach and the Maritime Museum. Improvements to online trail maps that illustrate the difficulty of navigating certain areas is also anticipated.

Following the representatives’ twoday visit, Kamin said in an email to FSBD, “It was wonderful to see the impacts of our funding firsthand. We enjoyed your public land site and both of us hope to return.”

Further accessibility features are expected to come to the lakeshore, due in part to the assessments done with the help of NEEF grants.

“Improving accessibility improves the park for everyone,” Esch said.

FSBD is also looking for additional volunteers to help with the trackchair program. For additional information about becoming a volunteer, visit www.friendsofsleepingbear.org/volunteer.

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