Many national parks have free loaner wheelchairs, and a few even have sand or beach wheelchairs, but as of May 2019 a loaner trackchair is now available at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (https://www.nps.gov/slbe/index.htm). This unique project was made possible by the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes, who purchased an Action Trackchair (http://actiontrackchair.com) last August, and subsequently worked with the National Park Service to implement a program that allows wheelchair-users and slow walkers to explore some of the more rugged areas of the national lakeshore.
Unlike a traditional power wheelchair, the Action Trackchair has treads instead of tires, which allows users to access rough terrain. Currently visitors are allowed to take the trackchair on the Farm Loop section of the Bay View Trail at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This one-mile trail would not typically be accessible to wheelchair-users and slow walkers, due to some steep grades and tree roots and other obstructions. A typical hike on this trail in the trackchair takes between one and two hours.
Says Kerry Kelly, Chairman, Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes, “Park management wants to gain some experience with the chair and its impact on the natural tread of the trail, to be sure the heavy use on this trail doesn’t cause any natural resource damage, before extending to other trails within the park. We expect that after this season, we will review the program with them and we may expand to other parts of this trail and maybe other trails in the park.”
Advance reservations are required to use the trackchair, and each trackchair-user is accompanied by a volunteer, who shows them how to use the mobility device and directs them to the appropriate trail. “Having a knowledgeable local volunteer along makes the experience much more interesting and fulfilling, because they can add additional information about the park and other local areas,” adds Kelly. It’s almost like having your own personal tour guide – and it’s all completely free.
Says one recent program participant, “The trackchair was awesome! It gave my 90 year old dad an opportunity to experience nature with his family, on a beautiful hike he would otherwise not have been able to do. He caught on quickly about how to control it and never felt unsafe in any way. It was a memorable, amazing and unique experience!”
Reservations for the trackchair can be made at https://friendsofsleepingbear.org/track-chair-reservation/. Once confirmed, visitors can pick up the trackchair and meet their guide at the Kelderhouse Farm on Port Oneida Road, which is about 3 miles north of Glen Arbor.
So go ahead, get out and explore the wonders of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Thanks to the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes (https://friendsofsleepingbear.org/programs/accessibility/) it’s more accessible than ever!