Minnesota state parks introduce all-terrain chairs
TWO HARBORS, MN. (Northern News Now) - Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is pushing accessibility in the right direction through a partnership with the Minnesota DNR.
Last year, the DNR introduced five all-terrain track chairs that allow people with lower levels of mobility to explore the grounds across state parks.
After seeing initial success, they expanded the program to 13 state parks, including Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, increasing accessibility to Northlanders.
“I’ve been in a wheelchair since age eight,” said Jenna Udenberg, a disability advocate and educator from Minnesota. “I was diagnosed at age seven. And so a lot of my memories were outside. But then when medical stuff took over and being in a manual chair, it became more of a life of exclusion or isolation.”
Udenberg now uses these all-terrain chairs to explore the state parks.
“It was awesome being able to go on the rugged north shores and all that and so pretty awesome going on the bigger hills and being on the beach,” said Udenberg. “I haven’t been on the beach since I was a little kid.”
13 Minnesota State Parks now have one chair and Udenberg says seeing the breathtaking views of Split Rock herself is something she could only long for before.
“I see all these things on Facebook and social media,” said Udenberg. “And online and websites from all of our local photographers, but actually to be there yourself and actually experienced that I’m excited to come back and experience it even more.”
Starting Tuesday, people with lower levels of mobility like Udenberg can use the all-terrain track chairs to explore 10 miles of nature at Split Rock, and the DNR hopes lots of people do just that.
“There’s proven research out there that spending time in nature increases your wellness and, and you know, so we have a we have a vision that we want to get more people outdoors and provide that experience to everybody,” said DNR Northeastern Regional Director Shelly Patten.
Udenberg believes taking the chair out on the trails is an opportunity for everyone to learn.
“It’s helping to break that stigma because disability is not a bad word,” said Udenberg. “And disability culture and disability community have an amazing amount of experiences and life and wisdom to offer to the world around us.”
The DNR says the next steps are bringing chairs to state parks that do not have them and adding more where they already are.
To reserve a chair is free and only requires calling Split Rock Lighthouse main office ahead of time at 218-595-7625.
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