An inspiring story (“Pathways For All”) in the fall issue of BLUE focused on the good work being done by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (gtrlc.org), providing universally accessible boardwalks and overlooks at Arcadia Dunes: The C.S. Mott Nature Preserve and the Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve. Each makes beautiful natural features and views accessible to those who are physically challenged in one way or another.
The conservancy also is working to develop another accessible trail at the Timbers Recreation Area in Long Lake Township, a popular area to hike but one tough to negotiate in a wheelchair. The trail will guide visitors from the parking lot to Long Lake and on to Fern Lake where it will culminate with an overlook and fishing platform.
Kudos is due for GTRLC’s efforts to preserve special places and make Michigan’s natural features more universally accessible.
Meeting the need to provide better access to the outdoors has long rested on the shoulders of local, state and federal governments — agencies like the Michigan DNR, the National Park Service or National Forest Service, to name a few. All their work with limited budgets steadily has pushed back the barriers. It is admirable work that doesn’t always get fanfare — much of it is required by law under the ADA (American with Disabilities Act) — but it is important work that deserves recognition. And increasingly, it has become an integral part of the mission for these agencies.
Another group deserving a high-five is the nonprofit Joy 2 Ride, (joy2ridebenzie.org), founded in 2018. Its volunteers organized to provide elderly and disabled individuals with a chance to get outside, enjoy the fresh air and a scenic bike tour of the Betsie Valley Trail. Yes, a bike tour. They do that by pedaling them along on special electric-assist bicycle wheelchairs.
This summer, the Michigan DNR added electric-powered track chairs to its inventory of barrier busters. I was impressed to find these off-road track chairs are available for use at no charge at several state parks. They give those with limited mobility the ability to navigate tough terrains like forest trails, sandy beaches, deep snow and even 8 inches of water. The chairs are available at Maybury, Muskegon and Tahquamenon Falls state parks, Belle Isle and Waterloo Recreation Area.
A remarkable young woman is behind the track chair additions; her name is Kali Pung. She founded the Kali’s Cure for Paralysis Foundation (kaliscure.org) in 2008 after becoming paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident. She has since raised more than $2 million for paralysis facilities, research, rehabilitation and mobility, among other things. Her foundation donated the track chairs to the state.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore also announced this year that it too has a track chair, thanks to the fundraising efforts of the nonprofit Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes (friendsofsleepingbear.org). Its chair program is a first for the National Park Service. The chair is available for use at no charge by injured or disabled persons who can now sit back and enjoy a scenic trip along the lakeshore’s 1½-mile Bay View Trail. Lakeshore staffers have said they hope in time to have other chairs available on other trails.
The DNR, of course, which has worked to improve outdoor accessibility since the 1970s and ramped up its efforts in the 1990s to meet ADA requirements, continues to develop new and important accessible outdoor facilities. An online directory of those facilities can be found at bit.ly/DNRADA. Those who go looking will find a plethora of accessible beaches, cabins, yurts, campgrounds, kayak launches, hunting blinds, fishing piers, wooded trails and much more.
The agency has come a long way since the early days when universal access was unheard of and when outdoor enthusiasts with limitations were not sure if Michigan campgrounds, vault toilets, picnic tables, campsites and trails could be negotiated.
It’s time for kudos all around. ≈
Howard Meyerson is the managing editor for Michigan BLUE Magazine.