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All terrain-wheelchairs blaze new trails at state parks

By Sophia Qin Feb. 15, 2023

Whether it is enjoying fresh air in Yosemite’s lush green forest or braving the biting cold of the Great Smoky Mountains, all-terrain wheelchairs give mobility-impaired individuals the opportunity to experience the distinct climates and breathtaking beauty of America’s geographical landscapes to the fullest. Compared to regular wheelchairs, these models feature thicker wheels with deep tread, offering better stability and traction and enabling them to navigate through uneven terrains including sand, snow, mud and water. They also allow users to adjust speed, direction and seat angle, which proves useful when traveling up or downhill.

Ellie Kim Art

According to Orlando-based broadcasting company WKMG-TV, beginning March 3, visitors to Florida’s Seminole State Forest can make a free reservation for its newly-acquired all-terrain wheelchair for up to three hours. Spearheaded by nonprofit organization Friends of Seminole State Forest, the state’s first-ever track chair program is the latest in efforts aimed at increasing outdoor accessibility for those with neurological and physical disabilities.

The family of Colorado-native Mark Madsen, an outdoor enthusiast who continued searching for ways to immerse himself in nature following a paralyzing car accident, sparked this movement towards greater accessibility within public parks. In 2016, following his passing, they collaborated with Friends of Staunton State Park and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to establish the Mark Madsen Accessibility Fund and a track-chair program, Rocky Mountain PBS states. Currently, the program has purchased eight chairs and upgraded its fishing piers and equipment for wheelchairs users. Following in its footsteps, Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore provided a track chair in 2019, becoming the first U.S. national park to do so.

Ellie Kim Art

Reservation requirements for all-terrain wheelchairs differ depending on the state. In Georgia, where the Department of Natural Resources and Aimee Copeland Foundation (ACF) partnered to bring Action Trackchairs to 11 state parks in November 2022, visitors must provide a photo ID and proof of disability and complete an online certification course three days ahead of their visit. This gives the program sufficient time to notify the intended park.

All-terrain wheelchair users must also be accompanied by an adult “buddy” without disabilities. Each chair weighs 500 pounds, and buddies provide necessary assistance in case an emergency occurs.

“The buddy system is a valuable tool that promotes safety and inclusivity for the mobility-impaired. It is essential that everyone has equal access to the beauty of nature, regardless of physical challenges, and the system helps to ensure this by providing additional support and protection,” Senior Parsa Ansari said.

However, the benefits are accompanied by a hefty price tag, making it difficult for parks and individual users to acquire track chairs. According to Friends of Staunton State Park’s website, the cheaper of two track chair models purchased by the track chair program cost $15,000. Maintenance fees rack up further costs; new batteries cost around $550 and replacing the tracks cost $750. Aimee Copeland Mercier—a quadruple amputee and founder of ACF—is working to improve accessibility; The Washington Post reports that ACF fundraised $200,000 to purchase chairs at $12,500 each for Georgia’s state parks. She hopes to expand the initiative, first in North Carolina and later the entire United States.

“All-terrain wheelchairs should be implemented in not only state parks, but in all local and national parks as well to ensure greater access to the natural beauty surrounding us,” Junior Daniel Xu said.

Ellie Kim Art

Despite financial limitations, the recent series of initiatives reflect a gradual, ongoing shift towards increased accessibility focused on bridging the gap between nature and individuals with disabilities.


About the Contributors

Sophia Qin

school news page editor

Sophia Qin is a sophomore at Leland High School and the School News page editor for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys to stay in bed watching K-dramas with her dog while eating chips, sleeping, and eating more.

Ellie Kim

art director

Ellie Kim is a senior at Leland High School and one of the art directors for The Charger Account. When she’s not doing schoolwork, she enjoys scrolling through Pinterest, making Spotify playlists and sleeping.

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