Innovation and Commitment Improve the Quality of Michigan DNR Accessible Programs and Facilities

by Anne Cornett

 

With a rich history dating back to the 1800’s, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has proven to be one of this century’s most dedicated advocates of accessible recreation. With the advent of ADA regulations in 1990 and the implementation of the Access to Recreation initiative in 2006 sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Michigan DNR has embraced the challenge of providing accessible opportunities to all individuals interested in participation. From accessible hunting blinds and trails, to an innovative water transfer system the Michigan DNR truly goes above and beyond to provide the best experience possible.

Alternate Text Description: Camouflage pod vertically extended from mobile cart base.
Driven by solar power, the mechanical lift system allows hunters a  more advantageous perspective during participation. The pod door, which drops down and doubles as a ramp, allows easy access in and out of the unit.

Several years ago the Michigan DNR took the first step towards providing accessible services simply by adding the word “accessible” to the department’s mission statement. According to Dan Lord, Michigan DNR Development Planner, “It’s just one word, but it’s a pretty significant change reflecting the mindset and presenting the image that accessibility is important to the department.” This new mindset led to the addition of an Accessibility Advisory Council and several stakeholder groups designed to assist in providing more accessible programs, services, and facilities for a system which was initially built in an era when accessibility and barriers were not a concern. The resulting experience often goes beyond mere compliance with ADA standards, but embraces a universal design perspective allowing all individuals to participate no matter what their level of ability.

“We’re trying to change the mindset that universal design doesn’t just benefit people with disabilities, it ends up being applicable for everybody. Whether its moms and dads with strollers, grandmas with walkers, or someone using a wheelchair, by taking those considerations into the design process a lot of times you can address a lot of different people’s needs” stated Dan.

With a strong focus on accessibility, it is no surprise that many of the Michigan DNR’s most recent projects are some of the most innovative yet in the area of accessible recreation. One of the newest projects, expected to be completed in the spring of 2010, is the first ever accessible luge. Considered to be the only one of its kind in North America open to public participation, the accessible luge at Muskegon State Park could eventually provide a year round opportunity for all individuals to take lessons and participate in the Olympic sport. The fiberglass track system, developed with the assistance of the U.S. Luge Association due to the unique and technical requirements of the sport, is similar to the track system the U.S. Luge Olympic team is hoping to institute in Lake Placid in the near future.

Alternate Text Description: Camouflage pod vertically extended from mobile cart base.
Located at the Michigan Rifle River Recreation Area the 6 foot by 6 foot “Hunt Master” camouflage pod has the ability to lift hunters 21 feet into the air. This completely mobile unit allows the staff to position the pod at various intervals around the facility in order to provide prime hunting sites.

In the fall of 2009, the Michigan DNR opened its new, innovative accessible hunting blind at the Rifle River Recreation Area. With a limited amount of technical guidance for accessible hunting procedures and equipment, the team set out to provide a unique experience allowing all individuals the ability to participate. The result—a solar powered, mobile unit that can lift participants 21 feet into the air. The small pod, which measures 6 foot by 6 foot and includes a drop down door that can be used as a ramp for wheel chair use, sits atop a small trailer allowing the blind to be relocated around the facility as needed. It is expected that the hunting blind will be offered on a year round basis for wildlife observation and photography as well.

 

Located at Dodge #4 State Park, the Michigan DNR has begun the development of a water transfer system that will improve access for a variety of individuals to Michigan’s lake systems. With the ever changing water levels, the flexibility of the system was of the upmost importance during the design process. The resulting system, based on playground transfer platform standards, includes a series of oversized platforms leading down to the water level. A series of ropes and buoys then allow the participant to pull themselves out to deeper water where buoyancy can then take over.

 

The Michigan DNR’s dedication and commitment to accessibility goes even further beyond simply providing access to programs, services, and facilities. The knowledge of the department’s staff has also been of crucial importance to the initiative, requiring the creation of a series of educational workshops designed to improve the overall awareness of all employees. “Demonstration Days” were thus created on topics ranging from crossbows and hunting equipment to the use of person first language, to provide employees a hands-on opportunity to use adaptive equipment and become more informed on accessibility requirements related to programming and facilities.

 

Faced with challenges ranging from facility design to program implementation the Michigan DNR has proven that with innovation it is not only possible for all individuals to participate, but essential. They have become leaders in providing unique experiences for individuals at all ability levels, and provide a fresh example of how determination can result in improved opportunities for all.

 

For further information please contact:

 

Dan Lord
MDNR Development Planner
Parks & Recreation Division
530 W. Allegan, Mason Building
PO Box 30257
Lansing, MI, 48909-7757
Phone - (517) 335-2003
Fax - (517) 373-4625
LORDD1@michigan.gov