Ben Oxley was 35 years previous when he related with nature for the first time. Born with cerebral palsy, he’d spent his complete life in a wheelchair, unable to entry climbing trails or rugged parks with out the assist of some very devoted buddies and critical tools. However, that modified not too long ago when Oxley visited Red Top Mountain State Park in Acworth, Geaorgia, about an hour from his residence. He wished to attempt one among the park’s cool new choices: an all-terrain chair (ATC).
“It had been six or seven years since I last visited a park,” says Oxley, who grew up in Georgia and has by no means left the southeast US. “I’ve been down because I don’t have a caretaker right now, and I just didn’t know what to do. But when I got in that chair for the first time and got myself comfortable, it opened up a whole new world for me. All my struggles just went away. I really got to experience nature for the first time independently. I’ve been in nature before, but I was more in control of my environment and where I wanted to go.”
There are many varieties of all-terrain mobility units, ranging in worth from a pair grand as much as $20,000. The model that Oxley rented totally free at Red Top Mountain is called an Action Trackchair, a battery-powered wheelchair with tank-like treads. He described it as a “mini bulldozer” that may go over rocks, roots, throughout streams, logs, and even over downed bushes. That day exploring Red Top Mountain was life-changing for Oxley. “I was out there about four hours,” he says. “I was able to feel the breeze by the water. With a regular power chair your wheels get stuck in the mud, but this time I was able to get down by the river, get next to the water, and have my buddy stand next to me and take cool pictures of me.”
These free-to-use ATCs are the results of a brand new partnership, known as All Terrain Georgia, between the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Aimee Copeland Foundation, a nonprofit that creates extra leisure alternatives and outside accessibility for folks with disabilities. Last November, the basis unveiled a fleet of 12 new Trackchairs (at $12,500 a chunk) to be shared amongst sure Georgia State Parks.
“Having these chairs available is a game changer for so many people like me, who love nature but can’t access the beauty of the outdoors without specialized equipment,” says Aimee Copeland Mercier, who created the Aimee Copeland Foundation in 2017. Copeland Mercier is a licensed medical social employee with a background in eco-psychology. “The idea for the foundation actually came to me 10 years ago while I was in the hospital recuperating. My research in the field of eco-psychology taught me that nature is inherently connected to the human psyche. We’re part of nature, and being immersed in that home consistently reminds me what is truly important and brings so much peace and renewal.”
After a 2012 zip-lining accident left Copeland Mercier with necrotizing fasciitis (a flesh-eating bacterial an infection), she misplaced each her palms, her proper foot, and her total left leg. Just 24 years previous at the time, she struggled to adapt to life in a wheelchair. “After my injury, I realized if I wanted to get out there again it was going to take technology to bridge the gap between wilderness and accessibility,” says Copeland Mercier. “I didn’t want boardwalks and sidewalks; I wanted to do back country. So I tried out all the technology that exists and ended up buying an all-terrain chair personally because they’re so badass!”
After deciding on the Action Trackchair, Copeland Mercier and her basis designed a registration course of and protocol that might shield not solely individuals utilizing the chairs but in addition the soil and ecology in these parks. Reserving an ATC is free (although some parks do cost for parking) and contains a web based coaching course on tips on how to responsibly and safely use the adaptive tools. Copeland Mercier says the certification course takes about an hour, and the basis and parks require 72 hours discover to maneuver adaptive tools to parks the place it has been reserved.
There are quite a few organizations scattered throughout the nation like the Aimee Copeland Foundation that mortgage ATCs to parks, preserves, and counties. Whereas All Terrain Georgia requires coaching and a buddy system, some don’t require both. There’s no nationwide ATC loaner group, and to date most state parks have most popular working with outdoors companions to supply or preserve the know-how.