One of the largest feats that the world of outdoor recreation faces is accessibility. Slowly but surely, this is starting to change, and thanks to states like South Dakota and Georgia, disabled adventurers will be able to more safely explore public trails with off-road wheelchairs.
The widespread movement to address the major accessibility issue in public parks and recreational areas began in 2017 when Colorado rolled out its Staunton State Park Track-Chair Program which provided free off-road equipment to visitors after a $10 entrance fee. Soon enough, Michigan followed suit, offering all-terrain wheelchairs at a dozen of its own parks, including Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
As of Tuesday, South Dakota proudly joined the list of states working to make public trails more accessible and safe for visitors of all abilities. So far, the Mount Rushmore State has purchased two off-road wheelchairs and is looking to acquire more. At the helm of this project is resident Michael M. Samp, who is leading the fundraising campaign for 30 more chairs. Samp’s own father, who has spinal cerebral ataxia, tested out one of the chairs last year in Custer State Park. Because of the new equipment, he was able to trout fish like he would before his diagnosis.
“The plan is to have the chairs spread throughout the state and available for various outdoor activities including, but not limited to, park and trail enjoyment, hunting and fishing,” said Kristina Coby, the foundation’s director, per the Washington Post.
Georgia Wheelchair User Hits Local Trails for the First Time Thanks to Off-Road Equipment
Another advocate that’s helping the movement gain traction is Georgia native Cory Lee, an adventurer who has visited 40 countries on seven continents and the blogger behind Curb Free With Cory Lee. On Friday, Lee learned that his home state would be revealing its own off-road wheelchairs available for rent at 11 state park. This includes Cloud Canyon, which despite being only 20 minutes from Lee’s home, is still unexplored territory for him.
“I’ll finally be able to go on these trails for the first time in my life,” said the 32-year-old travel blogger. “The trails are off-limits in my regular wheelchair.”
Aimee Copeland Mercier, the catalyst behind Georgia’s program, tested the state’s chairs. Missing both hands, her right foot and left leg, Copeland Mercier couldn’t be happier to offer this equipment to fellow wheelchair users.
“I was floored by what it could do,” said Copeland Mercier, whose foundation raised $200,000 to purchase the chairs at $12,500 each. “Oh my gosh! I can go over a whole tree trunk, up a steep incline and through snow, swamps and wetlands. If I took my regular wheelchair, I’d get stuck in five minutes.”
And her work is just starting. Copeland Mercier splits her time between Atlanta and Asheville, North Carolina. She stated that the Tar Heel State is next, and after that…
“The goal is to alter the U.S.A.,” she said.