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 looking for ways to make more experiences in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore easier for people of all abilities to enjoy.
Thanks to grants we received in 2014 from Hagerty Insurance and National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), we have been able to work with Access Recreation Group, a consulting firm with expertise in designing for universal access. Cindy Burkhour has led 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.
At the end of 2016, we were informed that we would receive an additional grant for $17,500 from the NEEF to assess more of the trails and beaches at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and to promote accessibility improvements in the park to visitors with disabilities and their families.
About 20% of Americans have a disability that limits their use of trails or beaches. Assessment and subsequent improvement of trails and beaches will allow more Park visitors to experience dune, woodland, and wetland habitats and our Lake Michigan and inland lakes. The Friends will have volunteers working with an expert in accessibility assessment to evaluate trails and beaches and make recommendations. We will also partner with the Disabilities Network of Northern Michigan and Northern Michigan Adaptive Sports and Recreation to bring individuals with disabilities and their families to attend “Beaches and Trails for Everyone” open house events to showcase newly enhanced accessibility features of the Park. This work will be done in 2017-2018.
A new 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 will make it easier for older visitors, young families, and those in wheelchairs to be able to enjoy our Glen Haven beach. This project cost over $15,000. We plan to install a similar walkway and deck at the Maritime Museum beach in 2018.
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.
We have been working with the Park’s Roads and Trails crew to design a hard walkway from the handicap parking area at the Cannery in Glen Haven to the beach. This will allow families with small children, older visitors, and those in wheelchairs an easier way to get down to the beach. This walkway will be installed before Labor Day.
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 to. We’ve been exploring the possibility of purchasing a track chair to make available to visitors with limited mobility. We will be working with Park management to see if we can set up a system to make one of these chairs available in the Park in 2019.