Around 3.6 million Americans over the age of 15 require the use of a wheelchair. While basic wheelchairs allow many of them to maintain a mobile and active lifestyle, most are unable to venture beyond the concrete paths and sidewalks because their chairs simply can’t withstand the wear and tear; as a result, they are unable to explore the beauty of untouched nature, attend outdoor weddings, or go on adventures in their own backyards.
Fortunately, those that face such obstacles have an ally in the form of South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks. The organization recently teamed up with South Dakota Youth Hunting Adventures to afford an all-terrain track chair for those interested in hiking, hunting, or exploring the outdoors. The chair provides safety, stability, and mobility on flat terrain, rugged ground, and even hills — best of all, it’s available for use free of charge.
“It’s for those that are disabled that can’t walk or who are in a wheelchair or would have a hard time walking a long distance,” said Tyrel Schmelz, program manager Habitat at the Outdoor Campus West in Rapid City. “It’s another opportunity to get your outdoors enthusiasts outdoors. For those who think they’re not able to, or if they couldn’t afford a chair (like this), it’s another option for them.”
Becky Noble, the chair’s most avid user, is grateful for the opportunity: despite the fact that a car accident left her paraplegic when she was 17, Noble has always had a love of the hunt in her heart, and — thanks to the state’s efforts — is now able to pursue it with gusto.
“When I first got on the track chair, I could feel nature under my feet again, even though it wasn’t my actual feet. I was able to hear the sounds of nature, instead of (being inside) my pickup. It was a very emotional, moving experience for me just to be able to access things on my own,” she said. “I wish I could use it every day!”
The track chair is evidence of the recent solar energy boom (it has surged around 20% a year for the past 15 years) as the chair itself runs on a solar-powered battery. Traveling at a speed of around three to four mph and with a charge that allows it to run for between five to eight hours, the all-terrain chair permits users to commune with nature without harming it.
Though the wheelchair is most notably borrowed by hunters (in two-week increments), Noble expounds the benefits as going far beyond simple treks into the woods. Earlier this year, she had borrowed the chair to make attending a friend’s outdoor wedding much more manageable. As rustic and nature themes rise among the average 2.4 million weddings that occur each year in the U.S., accessibility decreases; unless the planner specifically accounts for those with physical disabilities, they are nearly impossible to navigate. The track chair offers a convenient way to bypass all those obstacles effortlessly.