Making nature accessible to all: Staunton track chair program continues to grow

By Alissa Noe
Posted 8/13/19

After-dinner walks were a ritual for the Atkins family. The family of four from Golden loved time spent being active, exploring nature and connecting with one another.

But everything changed when …

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Making nature accessible to all: Staunton track chair program continues to grow

Posted

After-dinner walks were a ritual for the Atkins family. The family of four from Golden loved time spent being active, exploring nature and connecting with one another.

But everything changed when Zeb Atkins was diagnosed with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. One day, he was fine; the next, he could barely use his legs.

“It’s a complete and total readjustment of life,” said Stacy Atkins, Zeb’s wife.

On Friday, however, the family walked together once again, meandering along Davis Ponds Trail in Staunton State Park with fishing poles in tow. Their ability to do so is all thanks to Staunton’s track chair program, which provides all-terrain wheelchairs with tracks for free to those in need.

The track chair program at Staunton State Park began three years ago, and it’s grown steadily since with 150 people using it in the first season, 177 the second and nearly 190 this year. It began in honor of Mark Madsen, a Conifer resident who loved the outdoors and was paralyzed in a car accident.

“Everything’s kind of in memory of him ’cause what he really wanted was to see a program like this at Staunton,” said track chair program manager Natalie Bostow.

“I am extremely passionate about this program,” added Wayne Parkinson, president of Friends of Staunton State Park.

“One of the things I like to say is that … this is an opportunity for people that otherwise wouldn’t have the ability or opportunity to (hike at Staunton State Park.)

“... We’re changing lives and putting smiles on the faces of our visitors with disabilities.”

Bostow echoed many of the same sentiments as Parkinson.

“We’re pretty stoked on the program. It’s been absolutely amazing. We’ve gotten so many people out,” she said. “They’re people who wouldn’t be able to go hiking otherwise. There’s absolutely no way that they’d be able to get out on Staunton’s trails without the track chair program. We get a lot of people crying the second they get in the chairs.”

Indeed, before hitting the trail last Friday, Zeb Atkins flew through the parking lot, maneuvering over pavement and across the grass and dirt.

“Watch out for me,” he said with a smile on his face.

His 12-year-old son, also named Zeb, watched from afar, laughing.

“This is like our family walks,” the younger Zeb said, noting his dad recently purchased a scooter that he uses for family walks. “Us walking and him a quarter mile ahead.”

At the end of the day, the happiness the track chair program creates is what it’s all about, and considering Staunton was the first state park with the program, it often works with other parks across the world to help bring track chairs to other places. One day, when all 50 states have a track chair program, Parkinson said he’ll be glad to know where it began.

“It all started right here in Conifer, Colo.,” he said.

New gear, maintenance

The Mark Madsen Accessibility Fund is raising money for a new track chair that costs close to $15,000 but will have a full suspension built within the track system to ease the impact of rocks and bumps. The Friends of Staunton hosted the fourth annual Mark Madsen Accessibility Celebration on Saturday with a goal of raising $25,000.

“The reason for that is this is a very expensive program to maintain,” Parkinson said. “We’re raising funds for the fourth chair and for ongoing maintenance of the chairs.”

Further, thanks to a $2,000 grant from the Conifer Rotary Club, the fund was able to purchase two car seats to make the track chairs more accessible for young children and small-framed adults.  

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