July–August 2024


Adventure for All

New funding is making outdoor spaces more accessible.

Julie Forster

Todd Kemery of Shakopee likes to kayak, canoe, hunt, fish, and explore nature beyond the paved path. Despite the barriers he sometimes faces as a quadriplegic trying to navigate public outdoor spaces, he has managed to stay active outdoors.

Thanks to a new push to make outdoor recreation more accessible in Minnesota, Kemery will soon find it easier to recreate independently at some state parks and public lands. The initiative is part of a larger $149.9 million legislative investment for the Minnesota DNR’s Get Out MORE (Modernize Outdoor Recreation Experiences) campaign.

Of that investment, $35.4 million will fund wide-ranging accessibility projects at state parks, recreation areas, and wildlife management areas. State parks receiving improvements include William O’Brien, Sibley, and Fort Snelling. Thanks to a combination of bonding dollars and Get Out MORE funding, work is already underway at William O’Brien, where the construction of an accessible launch at Lake Alice will allow people with disabilities, like Kemery, to ease into a canoe or kayak with minimal aid.

The launch will feature a floating dock with grab bars to assist paddlers as they move their boat up and down a roller bar ramp while seated in the watercraft. For Kemery, it will be a welcome change. “I will definitely use it because it’s safe,” he says. “I won’t have to worry about someone dropping me or straining to lift me.”

Another project at William O’Brien will transform the St. Croix River access from a muddy, steep slope to a concrete access route that leads to a ramp into the water.

“We are using universal design principles because what works well for people with disabilities works well for everyone,” says Erik Wrede, a DNR Parks and Trails development consultant. “These projects will also help someone with a baby in a stroller or someone who is ambulatory and struggles with uneven terrain or steep slopes.”

Other projects at William O’Brien include enhancements to the park’s Riverway Campground. “The [campground] will have an elevated tent pad that will ramp up 18 inches above the ground,” says Parks and Trails development consultant Melinda Anderson. The site will allow folks to use either a ramp or a side transfer to access the tent pad. This improvement will also let users store a wheelchair on or off the tent pad.

“As we develop or redevelop facilities, we’re always incorporating accessibility requirements,” Wrede says of the accessibility projects happening across the state. “We are looking to make improvements that are useful to everyone.”