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'A Whole New World And Level Of Access': 5 Minnesota State Parks To Offer All-Terrain Wheelchairs This Summer

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minnesotans with mobility disabilities will be better able to explore state parks this summer as five of them will offer free all-terrain wheelchairs, allowing more people to experience Minnesota's forests, prairies and wetlands.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says the off-road, electric-powered track chairs will be available starting Thursday at three state parks: Camden State Park in southwestern Minnesota, Crow Wing State Park in north-central Minnesota, and Myre-Big Island State Park in south-central Minnesota. Additionally, McCarthy Beach State Park in the Iron Range will have an adaptive beach chair so users can enjoy the shores of Sturgeon Lake.

Two other state parks will have the off-road track chairs later this summer -- Lake Bemidji State Park, which is expected to have the chairs later this month, and Maplewood State Park, which is expected to get them at the end of the season.

The track chairs work on gravel, dirt trails and open fields. They work just as well in the snow, so they're available for users all year long.

Track Chair Parks
(credit: CBS)

Brittanie Wilson, who uses an electric wheelchair everyday, tested out the track chairs Wednesday afternoon at Myre-Big Island State Park.

"It kind of feels like you're driving a tank," said Wilson, of St. Paul. "I'm 34 years old and for the first time in 34 years, I'm able to go where I want to outside without the fear of getting stuck. It offers a whole new world and level of access."

Mike Leiste, of Albert Lea, also tested out the all-terrain chairs before he and his wife, Heather, bring their 5-year-old son, Abe, to the park this summer. Abe has cerebral palsy and uses a wheel chair everyday.

"Having something with tracks on it that would get him out into nature, would just blow his mind," Leiste said.

They're hopeful these new additions to the state parks will get them outside more often as a family.

Track Chair
(credit: CBS)

While the all-terrain chairs will be available at the state parks listed above, they'll also be available at some regional trails and parks, such as the parks in Olmstead County and at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center in Austin.

There is no charge to use the track chairs, however, a state park vehicle permit is required. DNR officials say that there are discounted permits available for people with a hang tag for a disability on their vehicle.

Additionally, the DNR says that state park staff are not able to offer assistance for a chair transfer. While every location has a transfer board to use, no other equipment is available. For those who require other assistance, it's advised they bring a friend or caregiver. Personal transfer equipment can also be brought to a state park.

The all-terrain track chairs were brought to state parks through a partnership with local governments, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Council on Disability. To reserve them, click here.

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