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Michigan National Park To Offer Electric Wheelchairs

Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has become the first national park to offer people with disabilities the opportunity to explore its trails via a free electric-tracked wheelchair. The program is run by the nonprofit Friends Of Sleeping Bear Dunes, and allows visitors who require hiking mobility assistance to reserve the chair weeks in advance. Visitors who opt to use the chairs will be able to tour the 1.5 mile Bay Loop Trail within the park, with more trails to be opened for use soon. Reservations, which must be made three days in advance, can be scheduled here.

The nonprofit explained that “at Sleeping Bear Dunes, about half the park is designated wilderness so in those areas we can't do a lot of maintenance or changes (to increase accessibility) ... so the better option is to have a vehicle that can take the person into these areas so they can experience the trail as it is without having to make major modifications,"

Visitor Using The New Tracked Chair. Photo: Friends Of Sleeping Bear Dunes

Since beginning operations in June, the tracked chair program has provided dozens of visitors the opportunity to explore unaltered portions of the park that would otherwise be inaccessible.

For those wondering, although motorized transportation is generally prohibited in wilderness areas, the U.S. Forest Service provides express consent for the mobility-impaired to utilize motorized wheelchairs on its trails. Additionally, although the nonprofit only has one chair in operation at this time, there are plans to acquire a smaller chair for children at some point in the near future.

Visitor Using The New Tracked Chair. Photo: Friends Of Sleeping Bear Dunes

The chair is one addition to a series of accessibility initiatives within the park, including hard decks on the beach for wheelchairs and strollers, an accessible kayak launch, and a 20-mile multi-use trail that is under construction. 

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