“When I heard one of the students could not attend the snowshoe field trip because he uses a wheelchair, it got me thinking,” described Friends Chairman Kerry Kelly. “Maybe he could use our new Track Chair and go on the snowshoe hike with his classmates?”
For the past 4 years, the Friends has sponsored a winter school snowshoe hike experience for elementary school kids in Northern Michigan. This winter, despite the government shutdown, over 20 schools and about 1,100 students will participate in the Sleeping Bear Dunes Snowshoe Hike Program. The students learn about winter ecology and how to put on snowshoes and hike through a snow-covered forest. It’s great fun for the whole class!
That is, unless you need to use a wheelchair to get around, then this is one field trip when you may have to stay home and miss out on the learning and the fun.
Fortunately, this is no longer the case…
Last year, the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes purchased a Track Chair to make available to Park visitors with limited mobility, so they can get out on some of our more rugged hiking trails.
So could the new Track Chair be the solution?
“We wondered if the Track Chair would work in snow and if the young student (4th grade) would be able to control it,” explained Kerry Kelly. “We had never tried it in snow before and our reservation system hasn’t been launched yet.”
“After discussions with the teacher and parents, we decided we should give it a try. When the bus showed up, the teacher brought David over to our Track Chair. We got him in the driver’s seat and after just a few seconds of training, he was off down the trail with his classmates.”
“We took a class picture before the hike,” beamed Kelly, “And David wheeled right in the middle of the group with chants of “David! David! David!” from his classmates.”
“David was able to be on his own, like all of the other kids, for the entire hour plus long snowshoe hike! When it was time to get back on the bus, we thought David might want to drive the Track Chair home!”
Accessibility and finding ways for everyone to be included in Park activities is one of missions of the Friends. We support the Park on several projects to make our beaches and trails more accessible for everyone. If you’d like to make a much-needed financial donation to help keep programs like this available in your National Lakeshore, please go here to learn more.