Accessibility to the Sleeping Bear Dunes is very important. One of the key elements of the mission statement of the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes is to “heighten visitor experiences”. The very nature of a national park means that some places and experiences might be difficult for some visitors with limited mobility or impairment of hearing or sight. But we are committed to finding ways to make more experiences in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore easier for people of all abilities to enjoy.
Thanks to grants we received over the past several years from Hagerty Insurance and National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), we have been able to work with Access Recreation Group to conduct several training sessions and workshops in the Park to train park staff, volunteers, TART staff, and conservancy staff in things to consider when designing trails and other facilities.
Volunteers were trained to assess several of the Park’s hiking trails and Lake Michigan beach access points. We learned a lot through that process and have found that there are many little things that can be done inexpensively to make a big difference for people in a wheelchair for example. We have now completed this assessment and have included this information in our listing of beaches and trails.
About 20% of Americans have a disability that limits their use of trails or beaches. Assessment and subsequent improvement of trails and beaches allow more Park visitors to experience dune, woodland, and wetland habitats and our Lake Michigan beaches and inland lakes.
A hardened beach deck was installed at the Cannery in Glen Haven in 2017 to make it easier for people of all abilities to get from the road to the beach. This makes it easier for older visitors, young families, and those in wheelchairs to be able to enjoy our Glen Haven beach. We plan to install a similar walkway and deck at the Maritime Museum beach in 2020. We remove these beach decks each fall and reinstall them in the spring due to the changing water level in Lake Michigan and potential damage of winter ice. High water levels have caused significant beach erosion and cause us to reconfigure these decks each spring.
A major area of emphasis for Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes is to make Park beaches and trails more accessible to people of varying abilities. We know that it is often difficult for someone to get from the parking lot to a beach or a scenic overlook. So we’ve been exploring a variety of approaches.
Trails in Sleeping Bear Dunes often have steep slopes or sandy soil, which makes it difficult for some visitors to experience the natural environment or get to some of the spectacular vistas that others can hike. We purchased two track chairs to make available to visitors with limited mobility. Track chairs will be available beginning in May, 2020 for visitors to reserve for FREE. A volunteer will arrange to meet with you, provide training, and accompany you and your friends or family on the Bay View Trail. Learn more about the Track Chair program.Volunteers will be needed to make this program a success, so if you are interested in helping, please register as a volunteer or contact us by e-mail. We will also have the track chair available at park events this summer.