These are the words of Jamie Spore. She’s a 40-year-old woman with spina bifida myelomeningocele, a spinal cord defect, and she talks about finally being able to enjoy some of the natural and other amenities of Ludington State Park in northern lower Michigan.
Spore, who was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Michigan in 2016, has long been an advocate for people with mobility issues and volunteered her time to work alongside Friends of Ludington State Park to create the 5,300 m recreation area. acres, nestled between Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake, as accessible as possible to people of all ages and abilities.
The latest step in this effort came in May: an action chair. These all-terrain electronic wheelchairs easily handle trails, snow, sand and even shallow water, allowing users to explore areas that traditional wheelchairs might not reach.
Many Michigan state parks have added these track chairs, which are available free to visitors on a first-come, first-served basis. Many parks who don’t yet have motorized wheelchairs have either a stable surface to allow easier access to the water’s edge, or a lightweight all-terrain beach access wheelchair that can also go in the water , or both.
The state also offers a wide variety of accessible recreational opportunities in campgrounds, boating access sites, state playgrounds, trails, parks and more.
Spore, a lifelong paraplegic who lives in Ludington, has used the trail chair many times before, even exploring the park’s Logging Trail, a four-mile path that follows an old logging road.
“One of the first adventures I had in the state park was on a trail called the Logging Trail,” says Spore, adding that she wasn’t sure how maneuverable the chair was but she did. found it easy to use. “I’ve lived here all my life and never seen this trail because it wasn’t accessible to me before and it is now. I am truly grateful for these experiences.
Steve Begnoche, who is secretary of the non-profit group Friends, says the response from visitors using the track chair has been universally positive.
“We’ve had some really heartwarming thank you stories and videos sent to us of people appreciating it. It was so good that we are working on buying a second one,” he says.
The push to make the park – seven miles north of Ludington – accessible to everyone – regardless of disability – is part of the shared vision of park superintendent Jim Gallie, Friends of Ludington State Park and volunteers like Spore.
The Friends group has been a phenomenal partner in helping the park achieve these goals, Gallie says.
“They bring a lot of great ideas to the table. They’re really good at raising funds and telling that story and the message of why we want these improvements,” says Gallie. “Without them, I don’t think a lot of these things could have happened.
Almost a year ago, the park installed a universal kayak launch at Hamlin Lake Beach. A 30-foot inclined walkway includes a transfer area where visitors in wheelchairs can exit the chair, onto a platform and into the watercraft.
And that’s not all.
Ludington is Michigan’s first state park to have a powered SeeCoast Viewer
by EnChroma lens technology. The new technology allows viewers with red-green color blindness (affecting 13 million Americans) to experience a wider spectrum of clear, vibrant distinct colors. The viewer was posted along the park’s popular Skyline Trail.
“It’s newer technology, not that widespread,” says Patrick O’Hare, president of the Friends group. “One in 12 men is color blind and one in 200 women.”
One of the park’s most popular features – a universally accessible playground – was installed several years ago as part of the park’s 50th anniversary. The Friends group raised over $200,000 to build the playground. The playground is built on a poured-in-place rubber surface and is accessible by ADA-accessible ramps to the first level. A barrier-free sidewalk connects the play area to the picnic shelter, bathroom and concession area.
Spore and fellow Ludington resident and accessibility advocate Shelby Solberaski, whose sister has autism, worked closely with the Friends group on the design of the playground, only reaching consensus on the seventh design.
“I love this playground, and not just because I got to help design it. I was affectionately called the girl with the red pen,” Spore shares with a laugh.
Spore says it was easy for her, as someone with reduced mobility, to look at designs and decipher whether or not they will be accessible. She now enjoys the playground with her 10 and 12 year old nieces. She loves being able to interact with them as they play.
The park has plans for future accessibility features. Gallie says the park plans to replicate an accessible walkway — built from the beach house to Lake Michigan a few years ago — at Lake Hamlin because of its popularity with families. Part of its popularity is because the lake is warming faster than Lake Michigan.
New beach wheelchairs are also on the to-do list; existing ones become obsolete, he says.
The community, he says, has been extremely receptive to the improvements to the park and the effort to include everyone.
“By community, I mean not only our local residents, but also the community of campers who come here every year because it really is a real community.” he says.
The impact is clear.
The Friends’ O’Hare shares an email from a recent wheelchair user:
“’I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart. As a disabled person trying to get down to the beach with my walker is embarrassing and extremely difficult. What an incredible idea. Thanks again for thinking of us who have mobility issues.’”
“It struck me – the fact that he just said it’s a matter of dignity,” O’Hare said. “He said it was embarrassing and extremely difficult trying to walk with a walker on the beach and it was his opportunity to use the wheelchair.”