Accessible Trails on the "Mama Bear"

by Disability Network Recreation Coordinator Chris Timm

 

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In 2004, my life changed. Following a diving accident, I became paralyzed from the chest down. Before the accident, I was an avid outdoorsman and enjoyed all the incredible natural recreation opportunities in northern Michigan. In my youth, I was a regular at the Sleeping Bear Dunes; camping, biking or hiking often in the summer. I grew up in Traverse City and developed a love for the Sleeping Bear Dunes at an early age. It was, and still is, one of my favorite places on earth and helped spur a lifelong love for nature and the beauty of the outdoors.

After the accident, I didn’t know if I’d be able to experience the joy that I once felt from hiking back into the woods and listening to the birds and the wind. I missed seeing the huge old trees and the spectacular views of Lake Michigan, all the sights that were not necessarily accessible to a wheelchair user.

Although the accessibility of trails in northern Michigan is improving, it is still difficult to navigate the more rustic nature trails in a wheelchair, especially frequenting my favorite trails along the Sleeping Bear Dunes (though I was still able to enjoy the beauty of the park from the paved confines of Pierce Stocking Drive, Glen Haven and the mouth of the Platte River). It was not the same from my wheelchair...until I found the Friends of Sleeping Bear Track Chair Program. Last summer, a friend asked me if I’d like to join her and her 12-year-old son on a Track Chair hike at the Bay View trail. The Track Chair is an off road, electric-powered wheelchair that allows you to explore difficult terrains. I had just repaired the wheelchair lift in my van. The malfunction had prevented me from getting out in the winter and spring, and I was excited to get back onto the trails that I had not been able to use with my wheelchair alone. It was finally going to be possible using the Track Chair.

We made the reservation for both available Track Chairs at the Bayview Trail; the “Mama Bear” for me, and the “Baby Bear” for my friend’s son. We drove out to the Kelderhouse farm together in my van where our journey began. After meeting our hosts, volunteers who are knowledgeable about the Track Chair and join you on your hike, I transferred into “Mama Bear,” the larger of the two chairs, and we were on our way. The volunteers are members of the Friends of Sleeping Bear and run the Track Chair program. They are present on your hike to answer questions about the trail and any concerns you might have while operating the Track Chair.

The trail begins traversing through an open grassy field before making its way into some small trees and bushes. Next, we came across some large trees and a slight uphill grade. There is a section of soft sand that the Track Chair navigates with ease and some large roots sticking up that I could navigate around. Eventually, we came to an old farmstead that is maintained by the park service. The trail winds up around the old farm grounds before you enter the forest and drive along a ridge up to the top of a hill. Along the way to the top, on the far side of the farm, you can peer through the trees and see a fantastic view of the dunes in the distance and the beautiful blues of Lake Michigan. If you look the other way, you see the entire landscape of the farm.

As you continue along the ridge, you crest the top of the lookout. We spent a few minutes enjoying the lookout. Both chairs have the capacity to carry a cooler, so we were able to have a little picnic and enjoy the scenic views. The volunteer was helpful in taking photos of our journey and gave interesting facts about the trail. One of the volunteers guiding us was a geologist, who explained about formations of the dunes as we rode along.

From the pinnacle, the trail steeply winds back down the hill to the grassy area where it started. It seems daunting, but the Track Chair is made for just this purpose. There is a switch to adjust the tilt of the chair for safety and rider comfort. This trail was the perfect choice for the use of the track chairs, taking about two to three hours to complete.

Reserving the Track Chair is easy. Friends of Sleeping Bear and Disability Network Northern Michigan are collaborating to bring you a streamlined Track Chair experience. New this year, you can reserve online at www.trackchair.org and complete the reservation and the online waiver without needing to print or complete forms at the venue.

 

For More Information

Disability Network Northern Michigan is the first stop for people with disabilities and their families in northern Michigan. Our mission is to promote personal empowerment and positive social change for people with disabilities. Chris Timm is the Recreation Coordinator for Disability Network of Northern Michigan in Traverse City. 

 

Article Source

Families First Monthly | Disability Network Northern Michigan Column

 

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