Learning to drive a trackchair was as easy as picking up a new video game, says Melanie Dunn. And it was a lot more fun.
“Being a double amputee, I have not been able to walk very fast anymore,” says Dunn, the assistant director of All-Terrain Georgia. “When I got in the all-terrain chair, I felt like I was running again. It was so freeing. I did not have to depend on anyone else to help me navigate the grass, gravel, or hills.”
Leaving the pavement is exactly what trackchairs (aka all-terrain chairs, or ATCs) are designed for. They empower wheelchair users to explore dirt paths, rocky roads, dense forests, creek beds, and whatever unmarked trails they might care to blaze. And they’re becoming increasingly available to the public, thanks to the mushrooming number of wilderness preserves that provide trackchairs free of charge to visitors with disabilities.
All-Terrain Georgia helped pioneer this trend. Launched in 2021, the program is administered jointly by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Atlanta-based Aimee Copeland Foundation, whose namesake founder lost both hands and both legs in 2012 to necrotizing fasciitis. Copeland discovered trackchairing during her recovery and personally experienced its benefits. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t have the outdoors as a space of healing and growth,” she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently.
But at roughly $20,000 a pop, high-end trackchairs lie well outside most people’s budgets. Copeland set up All-Terrain Georgia so that cost wouldn’t pose an insurmountable barrier between people with disabilities and the beauty of creation.
“Being able to experience nature is an amazing thing for someone who cannot walk,” says Dunn. “I have always loved to be outside and feel the sun on my face and the breeze in my hair. Being in an ATC has given me that sense back again, and my mood certainly has improved. Seeing others enjoy it too is an absolute joy.”
With trackchairs available in ten state parks, Georgia has one of the largest public ATC fleets in the country. Another national leader, Michigan, initiated its trackchair program in 2018 and now has availability at 11 locations, while Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore is the first National Park Service unit with public ATC access. At least a dozen states will have trackchairs available this summer in one or more locations, and it seems safe to say all 50 states will be on board before long.
If you decide to take a trackchair out for a spin this summer, safety precautions are definitely in order. All-Terrain Georgia requires users to complete a brief certification course that covers backcountry dos and don’ts. Their participant manual (available at allterraingeorgia.org/certification) includes a great list of safe riding tips, a preparedness checklist, and guidelines for emergencies. Happy off-roading!
All the ATC Terrain
The following states had active ATC programs as Amplitude went to press in early April. But new states are adding trackchair capacity all the time.
Seminole State Forest || friendsofseminolestateforest.org/about-the-program
Ten state park locations || allterraingeorgia.org
Adaptive Sportsmen of Kansas || ksoutdoors.com/Outdoor-Activities/Track-Chairs-ASK-Program
Fountainbleau State Park || lastateparks.com/all-terrain-chair
Six state park locations || dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/track-chairs.html
Multiple locations, at Dept. of Conservation Events (by request) || mdc.mo.gov/accessibility-information
Ponca State Park || outdoornebraska.gov/ponca
Keystone Ancient Forest || sandspringsok.org/566/Track-Chair-Program
Pickup locations at White City and Tigard || davidschair.org
Huntington Beach State Park / Edisto State Park || waymakeroffroadwheelchairs.com
Outdoor Campus West (Rapid City) || gfp.sd.gov/track-chair
11 state and regional park locations || accessabilitywi.org/locations