Skip to main content
Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Michigan state parks system leads the nation in accessible recreation

Two people, one in a wheelchair, on a trail.
Michigan just expanded its fleet of off-road track chairs to 25, making the state parks system a national leader in efforts to make beaches and trails accessible to all. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural resources)
  • A donation of five track chairs several years ago inspired state park officials to prioritize accessibility in a new way
  • The state now has 25 of the off-road mobility devices — more than any other state
  • Advocates say more could be done to make the outdoors accessible to all

A steady push to expand off-road mobility chairs in state parks and recreation areas has made Michigan a national leader in accessible outdoor recreation.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced last week that it now has more track chairs — rugged mobility devices that have tracks like a snowmobile instead of wheels — than any other state parks system in the nation. 

“You hate to think that making parks accessible is a luxury, because it shouldn't be,” said Michelle O’Kelly, the DNR staffer in charge of expanding the track chair program. “So we're working towards that.”

Michigan’s 25 publicly-accessible chairs narrowly beats out Wisconsin’s 24 and Georgia’s 23, said Adam Henning, a representative for Action Manufacturing, the nation’s largest track chair company.

Accessibility at Michigan parks

Here’s where you can find accessibility amenities at Michigan state parks and recreation areas:

Track chairs: Available at 15 locations, with 10 more coming locations soon

Hunting blinds: Available at 10 locations

Beaches: 31 state-run beaches have accessible walkways or other features

Kayak launches: 7 launches from Detroit to Cadillac

Fishing piers: Available at 31 locations

Other accessibility features include viewfinders for people with colorblindness, accessible campsites, cabins, trails and shooting ranges.

Some local and national parks also offer accessibility equipment. Contact your park for more information.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 percent of adult Michiganders have a disability affecting their mobility. Track chairs, which can navigate snow, sand, root-gnarled trails and a few inches of water, are crucial for mobility-impaired people to access nature, especially in a state full of sandy beaches and woodland trails where standard wheelchairs can’t travel. 

“The chairs have been awesome for us,” said Cindy Burkhour, an accessible recreation consultant whose daughter, a stroke survivor, is paralyzed on her right side. “Walking on uneven surfaces is difficult. Walking great distances is difficult. So this makes it possible for us to be out (with) the family.”

There are now chairs at 15 state parks and recreation areas, with 10 new locations coming soon including Brighton Recreation Area, Hartwick Pines State Park, and Petoskey State Park. The chairs are free to rent on a first-come, first served basis. 


O’Kelly credited the Alma-based Kali’s Cure for Paralysis Foundation with starting Michigan’s track chair expansion by donating five chairs to the DNR several years ago.

“At the time, we didn't really have much knowledge of this particular equipment,” O’Kelly said. 

But soon word got out about the chairs, and rave user reviews motivated the state to expand the program.

“That word-of-mouth network in the disability community is pretty prolific,” Burkhour said.

The vehicles can cost $16,000 apiece, so the DNR sought outside funding. It has raised $445,000 from private donors so far. O’Kelly said plans are underway to add track chairs to a 26th park, Muskallonge Lake State Park in the Upper Peninsula.


The track chair expansion is part of a broader effort to boost accessibility at Michigan parks, which for decades suffered from budget shortages that left little money to perform basic facilities maintenance, much less upgrade century-old buildings to make them more wheelchair-friendly.

That has changed since 2022, when Michigan lawmakers devoted $220 million in federal COVID stimulus funds to addressing the maintenance backlog. Some of that money has gone toward updating old facilities that weren’t compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, such as a bathroom at Interlochen State Park where the doorway was perched on a concrete ledge several inches off the ground, with no ramp. 

The state is also working to expand other amenities for park-goers with disabilities, including accessible hunting blinds, kayak launches, fishing piers and campsites in certain locations. Find an accessible park amenity here


Burkhour, the accessible recreation advocate, called Michigan “a national leader.” But she said progress shouldn’t end at 25 track chairs. She’d like to see chairs purchased for all state parks, and made available “whenever the park is open,” as opposed to during limited hours and days.

And there’s a long way to go to make public lands usable by all, she said. In her ideal world, no park would ever purchase another picnic table, water faucet or bathroom stall unless it features an accessible design.

“We should all have the ability to go to the bathroom, wash our hands, and have a picnic,” Burkhour said. “This is a start.”

How impactful was this article for you?

Michigan Environment Watch

Michigan Environment Watch examines how public policy, industry, and other factors interact with the state’s trove of natural resources.

Michigan Environment Watch is made possible by generous financial support from:

Our generous Environment Watch underwriters encourage Bridge Michigan readers to also support civic journalism by becoming Bridge members. Please consider joining today.

Only donate if we've informed you about important Michigan issues

See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:

  • “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
  • “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
  • “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.

If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Pay with PayPal Donate Now