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Thursday, June 20, 2024

New tracked device lets Iowa wheelchair users hit the beach

New tracked device lets Iowa wheelchair users hit the beach

Iowans who use wheelchairs to get around can now zip right onto the sandy beach — or practically anywhere else — at Big Creek State Park in a motorized track chair that’s part wheelchair and part ATV.

Chad Kelchen, a parks supervisor with the Iowa DNR, says the new Action Trackchair is designed to handle tougher terrain than a typical wheelchair.

“It’s got a set of tracks on it like you’d see on a track skid loader or something like that,” Kelchen says. “It really opens up areas that traditionally have been too tough to cross for traditional users. And that’s our goal, to be able to give access to everyone to the beach, to the sand, to some of those really tall grass areas. The chair just motors right on through all that stuff.”

The track chair is the first of its kind for the agency. Kelchen says they noticed people with mobility issues would end up stranded near but not on the beach, which had to be frustrating.

“People would bring their friends or relatives, whoever, to the edge of the concrete and they would stay right there. And then you’d see three or four people trying to pick them up with a blanket or something like that to get them out to the actual area of the beach where they wanted to stay,” Kelchen says. “This gives the ability for that individual user to say, ‘I want to go there. I want to go here,’ wherever you want to go, and not have to rely on somebody else. They are completely autonomous.”

The Trackchair can handle slopes of up to 30 degrees and it features a cushioned seat, an adjustable reclining backrest and a headrest. Its battery charge will last five to seven hours, depending on the terrain.

“Right now, Big Creek State Park is the only location that we have in the state park system. We do hope to expand the program, but we are going to step back just a little bit and see how this works,” Kelchen says. “How does it work for lining it up? How does it work for the actual implementation? What do we need to look for maintenance and things like that before we make a huge investment. They’re really expensive.”

The $20,000 chair came to Iowa at no charge through a grant from the Ford Bronco Wild Fund, which is administered by the America’s State Parks Foundation.

Big Creek State Park is in Polk City, just north of Des Moines.

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