2013-12-05 / Outdoors

DNR: Creating accessibility

EZ Launch Accessible Transfer Systems for canoes and kayaks are turning up in more Michigan parks, thanks in part to Department of Natural Resources grants. 
Photo courtesy DNR EZ Launch Accessible Transfer Systems for canoes and kayaks are turning up in more Michigan parks, thanks in part to Department of Natural Resources grants. Photo courtesy DNR LANSING – At the recent Universal Design Conference in Marquette, the Department of Natural Resources Grants Section was awarded an “Above and Beyond ADA Award” for funding projects that make recreational facilities not only compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act but take accessibility to another level.

This is by no means the first time the DNR has been lauded for its efforts to include folks with disabilities in its programs. Fact is, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund – the DNR’s main source of funding the purchase and development of recreational facilities – has long added bonus points for projects that incorporate accessibility elements when scoring proposals for funding.

“Since 2007, universal accessibility design has been part of our scoring criteria,” said Steve DeBrabander, who administers the Trust Fund. “Just as the Trust Fund was founded on the principle that the natural resources belong to all generations of Michigan residents, we want to make sure citizens of all levels of abilities are able to access our wonderful natural resources.”

Eric Cadeau, a regional field planner with the DNR Parks and Recreation Division in Baraga, Mich., said universal design – “the highest level we can achieve”– is always the goal.

“From hiking trails to launch ramps, every facility that we are constructing new or rehabilitating, renovating or retro-fitting, we’re hoping to achieve universal accessibility,” Cadeau said. “There are obstacles – everything from topography to budget constraints – so we’re not always able to achieve the goals were aiming at. It’s very challenging balancing all stakeholder needs with limited resources, but we’re often hiring consultants and working with the Department of Management and Budget to make sure that we create accessible opportunities to our cultural- and resourcebased facilities and our natural resources.”

The DNR’s Wildlife Division has long supported efforts to make hunting opportunities more accessible, too. There’s an unusual waterfowl hunting blind at Maple River State Game Area, for instance, that allows wheelchair users to get into the game.

“You can wheel right into it and it has room for someone in a chair and another person,” explained DNR wildlife biologist Chad Fedewa. “It has a landing and a ladder for a dog and it overlooks a little pothole in the cattails.”

Unfortunately, the blind won’t do anyone much good this year as the pool in which it’s located has been drained for dike maintenance. But Fedewa points to three accessible upland blinds, on the west side of the game area, which offer a variety of opportunities.

“They’re accessible by a crushed limestone pathway from the parking lot,” he said. “They’ve been there for 15 or 20 years. They’ve got shooting lanes cut for the hunters and there’s one at the end of the trail that overlooks an open wood lot. And there are also three cement pads where someone could pull up a chair and put up a tent blind.”

Learn more about the DNR’s efforts to connect people with outdoor opportunities at www.michigan.gov/dnraccessibility.

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