Staunton State Park on Friday became the first Colorado state park with an all-terrain wheelchair for on-site use. The chair, which operates on tank-like wheels and can go off-road on dirt trails and up inclines, will be available to park visitors with all levels of disabilities.
“Our hope is to push this [program] out to other parks here in Colorado,” said Wayne Parkinson, director of Friends of Staunton, the nonprofit that donated the wheelchair. The chair is dedicated to Mark Madsen, who was quadriplegic and also loved exploring Staunton.
During the chair’s debut on Friday, Madsen’s former service dog Sparky presented a symbolic key – opening the park’s access to disabled individuals – to Staunton Park Manager Zach Taylor.
Within the next “couple weeks,” some (though not all) of Staunton’s trails will be open to all levels of disabled visitors, according to Taylor. The park is finalizing rules and procedures for use of the chair in order to ensure safety. Taylor is pushing to make the park as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. “This is just the start of it,” he promised.
Madsen grew up hiking and fishing in the area that is now Staunton, before he was paralyzed in a car accident that involved a deer on the road. With the loan of an all-terrain wheelchair from Craig Hospital, a spinal research and rehabilitation hospital in Englewood, Madsen was able to hit the trails again in 2014, which was shortly after Staunton opened.
“Mark’s summer in Staunton was his best summer ever the 14 years he lived in a wheelchair,” said Madsen’s brother, Marie Hensick, during the presentation on Friday. “Mark would be shocked…honored, humbled, and most of all he’d be really happy and pleased that others are going to have the opportunity to explore new horizons.”
When Madsen passed away, his family requested in lieu of flowers that financial contributions be sent in his name to the Friends of Staunton State Park. In May, the nonprofit discussed with Hensick the decision to dedicate the funds and host an additional fundraiser to acquiring and donating an all-terrain wheelchair to the park in honor of Madsen.
In a very fast turnaround, by August the nonprofit announced they were able to raise more than $20,000, surpassing the $13,000 goal and allowing the organization to work toward the purchase of two wheelchairs for use by the park (each will be named after Madsen, with the first bearing the license plate “Mark 1”).
“The outpour of generosity from our community was just mindboggling to me,” Parkinson said.
The board of the nonprofit compared several different brands of all-terrain wheelchairs and ultimately decided on a chair that includes tilt and attendant joystick functions from Action TrackChair.
Also on Friday, the park announced the donation of a lift which will assist individuals that need it into the new wheelchair. The lift was donated by Meg Langston and Jackie Medley, two park visitors who connected with the need on the park’s Facebook page.
Article and photos by Alicia Cohn. Cohn is the communication specialist for CPW and is an avid outdoorswoman.