Beach Wheelchairs Make Michigan Lakes More Accessible

For many of us, summertime in Michigan means heading to the nearest beach and running into the water, even splashing in the waves. But there are lots of people who have physical barriers to this Great Lakes cool-down. They might use a wheelchair, have trouble walking over the sand, or challenges with balance or mobility that make a walk to the shoreline a slow, arduous trek. In the last few years, some of these beach barriers have been eased by the introduction of track chairs – special electric chairs with wide, tread-covered triangular tires that allow people to easily have an off-road experience. They can be used on a rugged trail, over a sandy beach, and even into the shallow water of a lake’s swimming area. All are free to use. For many people, track chairs have increased their independence and changed the way they and their families view taking a trip to the beach.  

While these track chairs are offered by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at a growing number of state park beaches, they are made possible by many different nonprofit organizations. The groups raise funds to purchase the devices and donate them to specific parks. Some parks have more than one chair and nearly all require a reservation, so if you’re planning to go to a specific park, you will want to know the track chair details and requirements before you go.  

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a national park located along Lake Michigan near Empire, was the first in the state to offer track chairs. The Michigan state park system followed suit and introduced track chairs in 2017 at five parks, according to WCMU Public Radio. The feedback was quick and positive, and DNR staff said they realized more track chairs were needed but that those funds would have to be privately raised, as the state park budget is used for infrastructure and other essentials.  

In 2021, there were track chairs available at seven state parks and recreation areas. State officials have said there are fundraising plans underway that would pay for track chairs at another 16 state parks. Some of those new chairs have already been delivered this year. 

The state currently has a fundraising website showing the amount of donations being gathered for track chairs at several different parks.  

The DNR offers an online list of track chairs and details about reservations and availability. Some of these chairs are at beach-front sites and others are for off-road trails. For more specific answers, call and check with state park staff before you arrive.

Here are the state parks in Michigan offering track chairs: 

Bald Mountain Recreation Area, Lake Orion: The track chair is available on a first-come, first-served basis every day from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Use is two hours due to battery life on the chair. Call the park to reserve at 248-693-6767.

Belle Isle State Park, Detroit: Chair use limited to two hours per person. To reserve, call 313-821-9844 (Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.). 

Grand Haven State Park:  Three chairs are available. Two-hour online reservations are available May 1 to Oct. 31.  

Holland State Park: Two chairs are available. Available first-come, first-reserved Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. No weekends for the time being. To make a reservation, call the park at 616-399-9390.  

Ionia Recreation Area: A track chair is available. Check with the park staff for details at 616-527-3750.

Island Lake Recreation Area, Brighton: Two chairs are available, including one with mountain bike tires that is lever-driven. The track chair is available first-come, first-reserved year-round 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To make a reservation, contact 810-229-7067 (Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Use is limited to three hours. Additional hours by request during hunting season. Island Lake’s GRIT Freedom all-terrain wheelchair is available by reservation. Please send a private message at Facebook.com/IslandLakeRec or call 810-229-7067. 

Ludington State Park: Two track chairs are available. Reservations must be made 24 hours in advance. Visit Friends of Ludington State Park to make a reservation. 

Maybury State Park, Northville: One chair is available. To reserve, call the park office at 248-349-8390 (Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.). 

Muskegon State Park: One track chair. It can be delivered to the area of the park where it will be used, whether that’s the beach or a trail. It is available first-come, first-reserved year-round Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (May 1-Oct. 31). To make a reservation, call the park at 231-744-3480. 

Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Paradise: One chair available at the Upper Falls. It is available first-come, first-reserved year-round (reservations must be made 24 hours or more in advance). When the track chair is not reserved in advance, it will be available to borrow first-come, first-served at the Upper Falls Fact Shack from noon to 5 p.m. (June 1-Sept. 5). To make advance reservations, email [email protected], call 906-492-3415 or send a private message at Facebook.com/TQFalls. 

Waterloo Recreation Area, Chelsea: One chair located at the Gerald Eddy Discovery Center, 17030 Bush Road, for use on nearby trails. To reserve in one-hour increments, call the Discovery Center at 734-475-3170 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. 

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