Tracked chair contributors line up earlier than the Mates of Seminole State Forest’s latest Run for the Woods fundraiser. (Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
ORLANDO, Fla. — Rugged, distant trails that may usually be traversed solely on foot, bike or horseback are instantly accessible to individuals with disabilities due to a brand new program at Seminole State Forest.
A motorized wheelchair with all-terrain tracks is out there for reservation, freed from cost, on the weekends for these with mobility impairments and their households to take pleasure in time within the woods. This long-held dream was first hatched by George Koutsakis, president of Mates of Seminole State Forest, throughout a visit to Colorado a number of years in the past.
“I used to be approach up within the mountains on a slim path. I noticed somebody utilizing certainly one of these chairs mountain climbing along with his two grownup kids and 4 grandchildren,” Koutsakis stated of this system at Staunton State Park in Colorado. “To have an individual in a wheelchair take heed to the birds and be at peace soaking in nature, you may’t beat that.”
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After years of petitioning and overcoming bureaucratic challenges, Mates of Seminole State Forest has an EcoRover track-powered wheelchair, the primary of its form in all of Florida’s 38-state forest system. Within the Sunshine State, an estimated 13.5% of adults have a incapacity that impacts their mobility, to not point out out-of-state guests who would possibly profit from this system.
“The phrase that I hear quite a bit is, ‘thanks,’” Koutsakis stated. “These individuals have felt forgotten.”
Years after writing a letter in help of the tracked-chair program, Shannon Keim was capable of carry her daughter, Skyler Keim-Jones, onto the paths she likes to run.
“I bought tears in my eyes this system bought accepted. We cheered and cried collectively; it’s superb,” Keim stated. “It’s been a very long time coming, however now it’s right here, and we will do it any weekend we wish to do it.””
Throughout Mates of Seminole State Forest’s annual Run for the Woods fundraiser, Cordell Jeter, the president and founding father of EcoRover Chairs, introduced practically a dozen of his machines for individuals with disabilities to make use of. His firm, which began as a “mom-and-pop” store in 2016, has produced practically 100 chairs up to now.
“Our purpose is neighborhood entry. I consider that this expertise needs to be obtainable at seashores, state parks and nationwide monuments such as you discover scooters at grocery shops prepared to be used,” stated Jeter, who gained bronze and gold medals on the 1992 Paralympics in Barcelona. “To see 11 or 12 tracked chairs, EcoRovers, in a single place on the similar time, you may’t beat it. It’s like a imaginative and prescient coming true.”
These mobility machines can journey as much as 15 miles on a single cost and have facilities equivalent to cupholders, USB charging ports, LED lights and an influence tilt seat.
Kenny Menendez, who enjoys adventures together with adaptive scuba diving, bought to check out one of many chairs for the primary time throughout Run for the Woods.
“I selected all of the bumpy routes. This bought by way of the paths and over the roots no drawback, and I by no means fearful about falling out,” he stated. “I’m not saying I forgot what the woods smelled like, however it’s totally different than being on concrete on a regular basis.”
A part of what conjures up Jeter to maintain producing these chairs and advocating for others with disabilities is the optimistic influence of the outside.
“The physique desires to be in nature. That is only a instrument that gives entry to that free profit,” he stated. “When you’ve gotten a bodily incapacity, these pure assets have boundaries or really feel off-limits. It’s not nearly recreation; it’s about wellness and psychological well-being.”
Sooner or later, Mates of Seminole State Forest hopes to develop entry to this program and proceed advocating for accessibility within the practically 30,000-acre out of doors house.
“Why shouldn’t individuals with mobility impairments take pleasure in the identical advantages of the forest that we do?” Koutsakis stated. “I really feel renewed and rejuvenated to lastly see this present day. It’s nothing however smiles on these individuals’s faces.”
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