DNR fundraising for track chairs in over a dozen state parks
The state launched a fundraiser to buy track chairs to make Michigan parks more accessible.
The Department of Natural Resources is trying to raise $200,000 in private donations to buy track chairs - electric chairs with treaded tracks - for 16 different state parks. They can handle trails, snow, sand and up to eight inches of water.
Seven parks currently offer one chair each - Belle Isle Park, Grand Haven State Park, Island Lake Recreation Area, Maybury State Park, Muskegon State Park, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, and Waterloo Recreation Area - all donated by Kali’s Cure, except Island Lake, which was donated by Friends of Island Lake Recreation Area.
Michelle O’Kelly, head of Fund Development at the DNR, says she didn’t realize the importance of track chairs until she heard from people using them.
“We would have family say this is the first time that we've been able to take our entire family down to the beach because it was hard to get my mom who is in a chair down to the water, it would take us an hour to go from the parking lot to the water,” she said. “I think the importance is there's the fact that people can take their families now that may not have been able to all collectively go and visit a state park together.
O’Kelly said the current DNR budget is earmarked solely for operations and infrastructure. She said the chairs do not fall under either of those parameters.
“The budget does not allow us for purchasing the chairs,” she said. “The budget takes care of any sort of infrastructure improvements that need to happen plus the general day to day maintenance.”
Sleeping Bear Dunes was the first national park in the country to adopt track chairs. They were first introduced to state parks in 2017, with five donations to five state parks and two more in the following years.
O’Kelly said they have been popular, attracting people across state lines.
People have been traveling from out of state to Michigan, knowing that we have these chairs in so many of our parts, because it's not a super common thing - yet,” she said. “We're working very hard to be kind of on the forefront of being able to have these available to people in so many different parks.”
So far, the DNR raised about one-fifth, or 20%, of their goal. O’Kelly said two of the 16 track chairs have been funded, leaving 14 more. She says it could take years to raise a total of $200,000.
Afterwards, they will look at funding more chairs in other areas. She said the long-term goal is to make every part of every park accessible to people of all ages and abilities.