Tennessee’s Natural Beauty Within Reach

by Tennessee State Parks
a park ranger is shown kneeling outside in the woods on a nature trail in his uniform next to a young girl seated in an all terrain wheelchair with giant wheel treads; she is in athletic clothes and smiling, and has braces on her legs. another girl about her age, possibly her sister, stands behind the wheelchair smiling too.
From left, Radnor Lake State Park Ranger Dameon Fontenot poses with Kara and Triniti Kelsor.

Tennessee State Parks are known for their breathtaking natural beauty, preserved historic sites, and stunning scenery, attracting millions of visitors each year. However, some people face barriers that may keep them from fully enjoying these special places. To ensure that Tennessee State Parks are accessible to all Tennesseans, the state parks system is striving to identify and eliminate barriers to these public spaces.

“Tennessee State Parks are treasured, cherished places that are kept in the public trust for all Tennesseans,” said Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Deputy Commissioner Greer Tidwell. “We have been and will continue to improve our parks’ accessibility, so our parks are welcoming and inviting for everyone to enjoy the great outdoors.”

A key way that Tennessee State Parks is addressing accessibility is by providing all-terrain wheelchairs. These wheelchairs are built to navigate uneven surfaces where those with mobility challenges may have difficulty. All-terrain wheelchairs are available free of charge.

Four Tennessee State Parks currently offer all-terrain wheelchairs to use free of charge to visitors:

  • Radnor Lake State Park in Davidson County,
  • Tims Ford State Park in Franklin County,
  • Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park in Unicoi County, and
  • Henry Horton State Park in Marshall County.
a group of people stand in front of the all-terrain wheelchair in an outdoor photo.
An August 29 event at Radnor Lake State Park celebrated a TVA grant to support accessibility in State Parks. From left are Commissioner Brad Turner, Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities; Ann Tidwell, board member, Friends of Radnor Lake and Tennessee State Parks Conservancy; Deputy Commissioner Greer Tidwell, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation; Gina Hancock, executive director, Tennessee State Parks Conservancy; Gary Harris, director of government & community relations for the north region, Tennessee Valley Authority.

These chairs were acquired through generous donations from community partners, including:

  • the Tennessee State Parks Conservancy,
  • the Tennessee Valley Authority,
  • the Friends of Radnor Lake,
  • the Hays Foundation,
  • the Friends of Rocky Fork State Park,
  • and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation National Paralysis Resource Center.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, in his 2023 State of the State Address, stated the goal of having the “most accessible park system in the nation.” Tennessee State Parks is one of only seven state park systems in the country that provides free entry to visitors. Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly recently appropriated more than $1.2 million for additional all-terrain wheelchairs to be placed in the state parks system, along with $1.6 million to make improvements on trail accessibility.

Tennessee State Parks has been in consultation with the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) in its ongoing efforts to make state parks more accessible. DIDD Commissioner Brad Turner, who oversees nearly 2,000 employees and services and supports for approximately 25,000 children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has already taken advantage of the all-terrain wheelchair offerings with his daughter. 

DIDD Commissioner Brad Turner, a white man with athletic clothes on, stands next to his wife Rebecca on a nature trail at Radnor Lake park with their daughter Kinsley, a teenage wheelchair user, in an all terrain wheelchair
“My family was able to enjoy the trails at Radnor Lake for the very first time together because of the all-terrain wheelchair,” said Turner, pictured with his wife Rebecca and daughter Kinsley. “I’m proud of the commitment Tennessee State Parks has made to prioritize inclusion and give all Tennesseans the opportunity to experience the incredible natural beauty within our state’s borders.”

Various parks across the state provide people with disabilities the opportunity for meaningful outdoor experiences in our state parks, including:

  • accessible trails,
  • colorblind viewers,
  • accessible canoe/kayak launches (available at Booker T. Washington State Park in Hamilton County and Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park in Shelby County),
  • and more.

Tennessee State Parks recently launched a new webpage where citizens can view specific accessibility options: tnstateparks.com/about/accessibility. Tennessee State Parks will update the page as new offerings are made available.

About Tennessee State Parks: Tennessee State Parks were established to protect and preserve the unique natural, cultural and historic resources of Tennessee. The public interest is served by promoting stronger communities and healthier citizens through diverse recreation while conserving the natural environment. For more information about accessibility visit: tnstateparks.com/about/accessibility.   

Mom Alison is smiling and walking next to her daughter Charlotte, helping Charlotte use the steering controls of the all-terrain wheelchair on a nature trail.
Former Council member Alison Bynum and daughter Charlotte enjoy the new accessibility of Radnor Lake State Park.