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New programs at Ridgway State Park increase outdoor accessibility for all

A look of ‘pure joy’

New programs at Ridgway State Park increase outdoor accessibility for all

  • Special Thanks Telluride Daily Planet - Leslie Vreeland, Contributing Editor

Ridway park

A recent visitor to Ridgway State Park tries out one of the new floating wheelchairs available for checkout at Dutch Charlie Designated Swim Beach. (Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife/Ridgway State Park)

The spectacular landscapes of southwest Colorado are out of reach, for many. But new equipment is making it easier to access the trails and beach at one of this region’s most popular spots: Ridgway State Park.

The park recently added a pair of Action Trackchairs with thick, rubber tractor-like treads that allow “guests with limited mobility to explore designated areas within the park,” according to a CPW news release. “We’ve had the chairs since about mid-July,” Park Manager Johnathon Freeborn said. One of the chairs was donated to Ridgway by Staunton State Park, in Jefferson County.

Staunton “Is definitely kind of the model that everybody is using to set up their accessibility programs,” Freeborn said. “They have a huge program; they have 10-12 chairs that are reserved pretty much every day.”

The purchase of a second track chair was made possible by funds from CPW’s Hunting and Angling Outreach Programs, which also provided a trailer for safe storage.

The park has also added a 300-foot Mobi-Mat, “to allow all wheelchair users to navigate sand on the Dutch Charlie Designated Swim Beach area of the park all the way down to the water,” and a floating Mobi-Chair, “to allow users to safely enter the water.”

The Mobi devices are the result of a $19,000 grant from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, which the Friends of Ridgway State Park worked to secure. “We’ve invested about $1.6 million in 100 grants for Accessible Community Spaces,” said Mark Bogosian, director of the foundation’s Quality of Life Grants Program. “For the award that Ridgway State Park won, there were 315 applicants.” Of those, just 57 requests — “only 18 percent,” Bogosian said — were granted funding. “It’s proof of the incredible need” for this kind of assistance, he said, and what’s more, that “The Friends at Ridgway did an incredible job with their application, presenting us the information we needed.’

It was Freeborn — who has been at the park 18 years and is intimately familiar with the challenges its undulating and aquatic landscape(s) pose, for some people — who brought the foundation’s existence to the Friends’ attention.

He also had a personal perspective “that many laymen may not have,” he acknowledged.  “I had an experience where I was wheelchair-bound for about a year,” he recalled. “Being able to get out of the house and enjoy the outdoors was very spiritual to me, at that time. I couldn’t walk; I couldn’t do anything. It was healing to be outdoors. At the same time, it was very frustrating to not be able to take in part in many of the same activities that others could.”

At Ridgway, “We’d been talking with our land partners, and the Bureau of Reclamation, about making the beach accessible,” he continued. “It was an idea, but no one had the funding to do it until recently. About a year and a half ago, I started doing some research and came across the Reeve foundation’s grant. It’s a pretty big, good program that works all over the U.S. They’ve created accessibility for so many projects,” including locally. “The Telluride Adaptive Sports Program is a multiple grantee of ours,” Bogosian said. “They do amazing work. They’re a big part of what happens out there: people trying new sports, new adventures, enhancing quality of life.”

There’s no charge to use the new equipment at Ridgway (though you must pay a fee for admission to the park).

“For right now, when it comes to the track chairs, we ask that a staff member goes out with you,” Freeborn said. “Either stop by or call the Visitors Center and they will put you in touch with Park Ranger Erin Vogel,” who has been working to implement the new program and recently took Telluride Adaptive Sports participants on a ride on the Park’s Discovery Trail. (“We’re so excited to be able to offer this access on a few of our trails and look forward to partnering with a variety of organizations,” Vogel said.)

“For the floating wheelchairs, anybody can stop by the Marina office and check them out as needed,” Freeborn said. “We received a paddleboard yesterday that is compatible with wheelchairs; you can actually put a full-size wheelchair on that paddleboard. That is also on the swim beach. We would like to be able to provide you basic safety information on how to use it.”

Freeborn hopes the track chairs will remain in operation year-round. “I will say, they’re pretty heavy,” he said. “So a lot of it will be based on conditions. If it’s really wet and soft on the trail, it might not be the best time to take one out.”

Bogosian said the foundation was particularly impressed with the park’s design for accessing the water. “They emphasized in their application that a lot of the park is already accessible, with picnic areas and a beach ramp,” he said. “But there was nothing leading from the top of the beach down to the water. So” — for those in a wheelchair, or who have trouble walking — “What are you going to do? Are you just going to sit there and stare at the water? Talk about not being able to participate with your community, and with your family.”

The park’s solution “was really clever,” Bogosian said. “The MOBI mat gets you down to the beach, but then what do you do? You have to be able to turn back around. They thought of making the design in the shape of a T, so you can get back into the chair and turn around. A whole new world opens up to people.”

People like Bogosian’s 93-year-old dad, who can no longer “get on the beach without special access, and we grew up at the beach,” Bogosian said. “With a MOBI chair, he can do it. It’s incredible to see and be a part of something like this. We host Accessible Asbury Park Day every year” on the New Jersey shore. “We have people who haven’t been able to get in the water in 30 years, because they’ve been in their chair.”

Freeborn recently witnessed something similar at Ridgway. “Our floating wheelchair has gone out once,” he said. “To see the look on that boy’s face, going down on the sand and being able to float, was pretty indescribable. It was pure joy.”

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