All-terrain Wheelchairs Offer Rustic Trail Accessibility
Published by Green Bay Press-Gazette, Christopher Clough – August 17th, 2023
Motorized all-terrain wheelchairs offer rustic trail accessibility at two Door County sites
Those with mobility issues now can use an Action Trackchair for free at The Ridges Sanctuary and Peninsula State Park. Reservations are required.
DOOR COUNTY – Those with mobility issues are finding it possible and easier to get outside and explore some of Door County’s rustic nature trails at two locations this summer, the latest in a string of outdoor accessibility improvements around the Peninsula.
That’s thanks to the Action Trackchair, an electric all-terrain wheelchair now available to use selected days at The Ridges Sanctuary, a 1,600-acre nature preserve in Baileys Harbor, and Peninsula State Park. And, use of the chair is free at both sites.
Two chairs were donated, one each to The Ridges and Pen Park, by Kinect M1, a Green Bay-based organization that works to build better communities through increased opportunities for all people. The Ridges received its Trackchair in April after a one-day test run last November, while the park got its chair last week, making it the first Wisconsin state park or state forest to have one.
Led by a young person in an Action Trackchair, a group of children hikes the Family Discovery Trail at The Ridges Sanctuary in Baileys Harbor last November during a trial run for the all-terrain wheelchair. The nature preserve now has a Trackchair and is making it available for free to people with mobility issues so they can go out and enjoy nature, as is Peninsula State Park with its newly acquired Trackchair.
“It’s incredible to see people experience it for the first time,” Adam Peronto, executive project director at Kinect M1, said in a news release. “It opens doors for people who have never been on a trail before, or down a beach, or deep in the woods.”
Both sites have increased their accessibility options in recent years, and other parks, preserves and nature groups across Door County have made efforts to offer more chances for people of all abilities to go out and play.
That includes more than just hiking and enjoying the scenery, with both Pen Park and the city of Sturgeon Bay’s Otumba Park opening all-inclusive, fully accessible playgrounds within the past year and the opening this summer of the county’s first mini golf course that’s wheelchair accessible for all 18 holes, the eco-themed Evergreen Miniature Golf in Fish Creek.
All of which Ridges program director Anna Foster finds exciting for the county.
“It’s really great,” she said about the increasing accessibility. “I’m really excited to have two Trackchairs on the Peninsula.”
How does the chair work?
At its core, the Action Trackchair is a battery-powered wheelchair that rolls on tank-like tracks instead of wheels, enabling it to go over rocks and tree roots and through ruts, sand, loose dirt and deeper puddles, all of which could be obstacles to users of regular wheelchairs and those with general mobility issues who might not be comfortable trying to maintain their balance.
The rider uses a joystick to control and propel the chair, like a standard power wheelchair. If the user struggles with or is unable to use the joystick safely, a remote is available for a hike accompanying them. There isn’t a suspension system as on a car or truck, so the ride could be a bit bumpy. Its top speed on a smooth, level surface is a walking pace and it boasts a zero turning radius so it can maneuver in tight spaces.
The battery charge is good for three to four hours depending on how the chair is used, although The Ridges and Pen Park are loaning it in two-hour blocks to make sure the charge doesn’t run dry while it’s out on a trail.
Accessibility and Trackchair at The Ridges
The Ridges opened its Hidden Brook Boardwalk in 2016. It’s a third-mile-long, 8-foot-wide wooden walkway that’s compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and winds its way through wetlands, woods and grassy areas from the nature center to another boardwalk that runs in a straight line between the Upper and Lower Range Lights, the still-operational navigation aids on the property. That walk had been in place for years but was rebuilt in 2022 to also become ADA compliant.
The end of the boardwalk also marked the jumping-off point to start in on The Ridges’ rustic trails, which generally meant the end of the hike for those with mobility issues. Now, with the Trackchair, they can venture out onto the 1.2-mile Family Discovery Trail, the currently designated trail for the chair.
“It’s just great for people who wouldn’t be able to go out on our rustic trails to be able to get out there and explore The Ridges,” Foster told the Advocate. “We’re really committed to further accessibility at The Ridges. This is just one more step for us. Everyone should be able to enjoy the beauty and ecology here.”
The sanctuary joined with Kinect M1 to hold two Trackchair Open Access Days last November for community members who could not otherwise experience the Family Discovery Trail as kind of a trial run for the chair and them.
Foster said since getting the chair, the sanctuary has hosted local organizations whose members or clients can make use of it to explore trails there they couldn’t before, such as Sunshine House, which serves people with special needs and ability issues, and Scandia Village senior and assisted living facility in Sister Bay.
“We’ve had children up to people in their 80s and 90s using it,” she said. “Everyone who’s experienced them has just been incredulous. There’s been a lot of inspirational moments and moments of joy. Some people have been hesitant to use it, but once they do, they love it.”
Individuals are able to use the chair at The Ridges from 10 a.m. to noon Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Reservations are requested at least a week in advance, and the chair can be used only on the designated Family Discovery Trail across State 57 from the Nature Center. As of now, it’s scheduled to be available through Oct. 30; the discovery trail also serves as a snowmobile trail in winter. Reservations also are taken for groups.
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