The National Park Service is teaming up with nonprofit organizations to make the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore more accessible for people living with disabilities, like mobility issues.
The nonprofit Friends of the Apostle Islands has plans to raise $325,000 by the end of next year, which they will use to build a 500-foot ramp that will slope down gradually to Meyers Beach, and the National Park Service is expected to match that amount to help fund the project. Construction is set to begin as early as 2024.
“In many cases, national parks are examples of some of the wildest, roughest most far out there landscapes that this nation has to offer, and so it is no simple thing to make these areas accessible,” said Jeff Rennicke, the nonprofit’s executive director.
Currently, Meyers Beach only has a steep set of stairs: 45 steps leading down a 23-foot sandbank, and people like Janet Badura, a Wauwatosa resident who uses a powered wheelchair, has difficulty accessing the lakeshore.
“While I know that not everything could be made accessible or should be made accessible,” said Badura, “I think people with mobility impairments should still be able to enjoy what the national parks have to offer and also get a flavor of that park.”
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in four adults nationwide (approx. 61 million people) live with a disability. The park sees more than 200,000 visitors per year, and Rennicke said that statistically as many as 40,000 people could potentially find it difficult to fully access or enjoy the park.
The National Park Service has been improving access for people with disabilities since they began their partnership with Friends of the Apostle Islands in 2008. Between 2008 and 2014, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore installed more than a dozen restrooms designed to meet standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act on Basswood and other islands as well as accessible campsites and boardwalks at Sand and Stockton Islands. According to a spokesperson for the park, the National Lakeshore is in the middle of building an accessible boardwalk to the Sand Island light station, providing full access to the lighthouse for the first time.
The park also installed audio devices at the visitor center and interpretive displays at Michigan Island and Little Sand Bay. Additionally, the park offers a Junior Ranger booklet and brochure in Braille for those who are blind and vision-impaired.
Furthermore, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore partnered with the Minnesota nonprofit Wilderness Inquiry, which has been facilitating kayaking trips at the Apostle Islands for people with mobility issues for a decade, bringing 500 people to the park each year. According to Executive Director Erika Rivers, about 40 percent experience a variety of disabilities.
“The kinds of disabilities that we see on the kayak trips at the Apostle Islands include folks who are using oxygen from something like COPD, or somebody who uses a wheelchair or other mobility aids to navigate the world,” said Rivers.
Wilderness Inquiry is working with the Friends of the Apostle Islands nonprofit and the park to support the ramp installation, which Rivers said will “allow a much greater level of comfort and dignity in the process of bringing people onto the Great Lake.”
Rivers added, “I’m very appreciative … that there is more and more, you know, an awareness that things need to be made accessible for all people as best they can be.”