Tennessee State Parks Unveil All-Terrain Wheelchair at Booker T. Washington State Park

Wednesday, November 15, 2023 | 11:21am

Tennessee State Parks, the Tennessee State Parks Conservancy, and the Ford Bronco Wild Fund today announced a new all-terrain wheelchair available at Booker T. Washington State Park in Hamilton County.

The announcement follows Gov. Bill Lee’s September statewide Conservation Tour, which featured a stop at Booker T. Washington to recognize the park’s accessibility improvements.

All-terrain wheelchairs are designed to easily traverse tough outdoor terrains, providing a means to reach areas of the park not suitable for a traditional wheelchair. The all-terrain wheelchair donated to Booker T. Washington State Park is part of a collaboration between the National Association of State Park Directors, the Tennessee State Parks Conservancy, and Tennessee State Parks to expand access to parks and public land.

“Tennessee State Parks are committed to breaking down physical barriers for our park visitors,” said Greer Tidwell, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. “This means visitors with varying mobility needs and abilities can enjoy our park trails in a new way. With multiple all-terrain wheelchairs available in state parks across Tennessee, we are striving to create an accessible experience for all visitors across the state parks system.”

State parks visitors can view specific park accessibility options at this link. Tennessee State Parks will update the page when new offerings are made available. All-terrain wheelchairs are available to reserve free of charge.

“We are very grateful to the Ford Bronco Wild Fund and Tennessee State Parks Conservancy for the all-terrain wheelchair,” said Booker T. Washington State Park Manager Levan Gardner. “Providing new avenues for our visitors to experience the park is key to our success.”

“As a physical therapist, I am thrilled to see Tennessee leading the way in creating opportunities for people of all levels of ability the access to experience the amazing outdoor beauty of our great state,” said State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, representing District 11.

Governor 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 provide free entry to visitors. The system now offers all-terrain wheelchairs at five state parks – Radnor Lake State Park in Davidson County, Tims Ford State Park in Franklin County, Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park in Unicoi County, Henry Horton State Park in Marshall County, and Booker T. Washington State Park in Hamilton County. Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly have appropriated over $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 is continually seeking ways to provide people with disabilities the opportunity for meaningful outdoor experiences including accessible trails, colorblind viewers, accessible canoe/kayak launches, and more.

Serving as the non-profit partner of Tennessee State Parks, Tennessee State Parks Conservancy works to enhance and accelerate the state’s vision to have the most accessible state parks system in the country. Established in 2016, the Conservancy raises money to support special park projects, including accessibility initiatives, education opportunities and habitat restoration, aimed at enhancing all 57 state parks across Tennessee.

“The ability to hike and explore nature is something that a lot of us take for granted,” said Gina Hancock, executive director of Tennessee State Parks Conservancy. “With this all-terrain wheelchair, we’re bringing that experience to those who may not have had it before, and that’s a very powerful thing. We’re grateful to the Ford Bronco Wild Fund for providing this support and look forward to further enhancing Tennessee State Parks for all Tennesseans to enjoy.”

The parks have been in consultation with the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) in its ongoing efforts to make state parks more accessible.

Booker T. Washington State Park is located on Chickamauga Reservoir northeast of downtown Chattanooga. The park, officially established in 1938, is named for well-known African American educator Booker T. Washington. For more information about the all-terrain wheelchair and to make reservations, contact the park at 423-894-4955.