June 7, 2023

Ben Oxley was 35 years previous when he related with nature for the primary time. Born with cerebral palsy, he’d spent his entire life in a wheelchair, unable to entry mountain climbing trails or rugged parks with out the assistance of some very devoted mates and severe tools. Nonetheless, that modified just lately when Oxley visited Crimson Prime Mountain State Park in Acworth, Geaorgia, about an hour from his house. He needed to strive one of many park’s cool new choices: an all-terrain chair (ATC).  

“It had been six or seven years since I final visited a park,” says Oxley, who grew up in Georgia and has by no means left the southeast US. “I’ve been down as a result of I don’t have a caretaker proper now, and I simply didn’t know what to do. However after I obtained in that chair for the primary time and obtained myself snug, it opened up a complete new world for me. All my struggles simply went away. I actually obtained to expertise nature for the primary time independently. I’ve been in nature earlier than, however I used to be extra answerable for my atmosphere and the place I needed to go.”

There are various varieties of all-terrain mobility gadgets, ranging in worth from a pair grand as much as $20,000. The model that Oxley rented without spending a dime at Crimson Prime Mountain is named an Motion 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 Crimson Prime Mountain was life-changing for Oxley. “I used to be on the market about 4 hours,” he says. “I used to be in a position to really feel the breeze by the water. With an everyday energy chair your wheels get caught within the mud, however this time I used to be in a position to get down by the river, get subsequent to the water, and have my buddy stand subsequent to me and take cool footage of me.”

These free-to-use ATCs are the results of a brand new partnership, known as All Terrain Georgia, between the Georgia Division of Pure Sources and the Aimee Copeland Basis, a nonprofit that creates extra leisure alternatives and out of doors accessibility for folks with disabilities. Final November, the inspiration unveiled a fleet of 12 new Trackchairs (at $12,500 a chunk) to be shared amongst sure Georgia State Parks.

Courtesy of Aimee Copeland Basis

“Having these chairs accessible is a recreation changer for therefore many individuals like me, who love nature however can’t entry the great thing about the outside with out specialised tools,” says Aimee Copeland Mercier, who created the Aimee Copeland Basis in 2017. Copeland Mercier is a licensed scientific social employee with a background in eco-psychology. “The thought for the inspiration truly got here to me 10 years in the past whereas I used to be within the hospital recuperating. My analysis within the subject of eco-psychology taught me that nature is inherently related to the human psyche. We’re a part of nature, and being immersed in that house constantly jogs my memory what is really essential and brings a lot 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 arms, her proper foot, and her complete left leg. Simply 24 years previous on the time, she struggled to adapt to life in a wheelchair. “After my harm, I spotted if I needed to get on the market once more it was going to take expertise to bridge the hole between wilderness and accessibility,” says Copeland Mercier. “I didn’t need boardwalks and sidewalks; I needed to do again nation. So I attempted out all of the expertise that exists and ended up shopping for an all-terrain chair personally as a result of they’re so badass!”

After deciding on the Motion Trackchair, Copeland Mercier and her basis designed a registration course of and protocol that will defend not solely individuals utilizing the chairs but additionally the soil and ecology in these parks. Reserving an ATC is free (although some parks do cost for parking) and consists of an internet coaching course on the right way to responsibly and safely use the adaptive tools. Copeland Mercier says the certification course takes about an hour, and the inspiration 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 just like the Aimee Copeland Basis 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 thus far most state parks have most popular working with outdoors companions to supply or preserve the expertise. 

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