Living with multiple sclerosis, Learning to make the world accessible, Loving life with all of its challenges

Adventures Health & Fitness

Enjoying the Accessible Outdoors In the Track Chair

We love Colorado. The mountains, the fishing, the trees, the 300 days of sunshine… in fact, we’ve loved Colorado long before the rest of America realized it was the best kept secret in America. As Dre’s MS started affecting his mobility more, we made it a priority to keep outdoors accessible. Fortunately, in a state full of nature lovers that want to share this beauty with everyone, accessibility is  a top priority. When we found the track chair program at Staunton State Park, we discovered outdoor accessibility taken to a whole new level.

Click on the video above to view the video of our trip through Staunton

What is the track chair?

“An electric wheel chair on steroids” – That’s how the volunteers describe the track chair – and it’s a pretty accurate description. The track chair is an electric mobility device specifically designed for rugged outdoor use. A comfortable upper chair complete with straps for safety, the chair is steered by a joy stick. Two rubber tracks that rotate in a triangular shape make up the “wheels.” It’s these tracks that allow the chair to navigate over mild roots, rocks and rougher terrain. And it’s these tracks that allow certain hiking paths in Staunton to be accessible.

We got one of our beautiful Colorado Saturdays for our trip up to Staunton. The weather cooperated perfectly, not too hot, plenty of blue sky with a little bit of haze left over from some thunderstorms the night before. Damp air brings out the scent of pine and what had been a rainy week in Colorado had brought out the green and flowers. Perfect day for our first trail together in eight years.

“It’s like having my own four wheeler,” Dre described after his practice run, his signature grin splashed on his face. From the second he sat down, it was pretty clear that the track chair was going to be a great time.

The chair itself was easy to manage. The steering is handled by a joystick that can be moved to either the right or left arm rest depending on the need of the driver. For hills, the seat leans forward and back little bit to balance the driver as the chair goes up and down. Granted, while the chair definitely has more capacity on the trails than the average motorized chair or scooter, it’s not designed for trails with large rocks, steps or really steep terrain.

Accessible Outdoors – A day in the park

In the Track Chair
Dre and Margaret Using the Track Chair

We were lucky to have Margaret as our guide. Getting Dre set and safe in the chair was her first priority, making sure we had a great hike was her second, and as a bonus she was a wealth of knowledge about the surrounding nature, the history of the park and the track chair program. On top of that she was also a great person and it was wonderful to spend the morning with her.

For our trip, we chose to trek the Davis Pond loop. A 3.25 mile round trip, as promised, it takes you to a fishing pond, which happens to be well stocked. The pond has a beautiful and very accessible picnic and restroom area with a nice handicap fishing spot.

accessible outdoors on the fishing pier

Fortunately, we brought Dre’s pole along and sure enough, within twenty minutes he’d wrangled himself a trout.

There are two other accessible trails riders can choose for their journeys as well. The Staunton Ranch trail is just over five miles out and back and the Mill Creek Trail is a 2.5 mile loop. When making your track chair reservation you select which trail you are planning on trying. The reservation page gives a brief description of each trail so you can decide the best option for you.

How did this all come about?

On our hike, Margaret explained to us that the park hosted its first fundraiser to begin raising funding for one chair. But donors and volunteers blew the original goal of one chair out of the water and were able to purchase two chairs. While Mark has passed since the inception of the program his legacy lives on through the program. Mark 1 was the plate of the chair we were in, and the other chair, Mark 2.

on the trail in the track chair
Cruising on the Mark 1 Track Chair

The track chair program was started at Staunton a year after the park itself was open. Mark Madsen, a Colorado outdoor enthusiast lost his mobility after a car accident. When Craig Hospital brought up one of their track chairs to Staunton to let Mark again enjoy the mountain area he loved so much. Thanks to Mark, Craig Hospital and Colorado State Parks, it was realized that many more than Mark could enjoy these great outdoors if track chairs were available at the park.

Sign me up!

Enjoying the Track Chair
Perfect day with the track chair at Staunton State Park

The track chairs are available to reserve on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and there are two chairs. The reservations fill up quickly, so look in advance for dates and have a few back up dates in mind. Take some time to review the website as well. There’s a lot of great information about how to reserve, how to prepare, getting to the park, possible cancellations, etc. It’s important information to review, as Staunton has done a great job of creating an accessible venue, but nothing controls mother nature. Being correctly prepared and is always a good idea when you’re heading into the Colorado mountains.

John Muir once said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” He didn’t say anything about not being able to go because mobility was an issue, or the mountains not calling because the path wasn’t accessible. Mountains and nature don’t simply stop calling because a disability happens. If anything, they call more. It’s no secret that being outdoors to connect with nature, smelling fresh pine in the air, hearing wind brushing through the trees, is more therapeutic to the soul than any drug could ever be. Thanks to the track chair program at Staunton State Park, that beauty is accessible for all to have.

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