The Township of Fort Gratiot strives to make parks and recreation accessible to all

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It is important that everyone can enjoy free recreation and ensuring that these opportunities are accessible to all is a priority for Fort Gratiot Charter Township.

At the start of the pandemic, many families moved away from faraway vacation destinations and turned to their own neighborhoods for safer outdoor entertainment. According to Fort Gratiot Township Clerk Robert Buechler, this trend has remained consistent.

“From my experience on the trails, it seems like the increase in people using parks and outdoor activities has continued,” he says. “People can now go on vacation, but when they return they still use leisure activities close to home.”

Buechler says most of the trails in the community are paved and wheelchair accessible. Future plans include an ADA accessible playscape installation in Parker Road Park.

“It’s community equipment and parks for everyone,” he says. “We want to make sure that as many people as possible can access it.”

North River Road Park in Fort Gratiot Township, Michigan.

At North River Road Park, there’s an ADA-accessible kayak launch, an ADA-accessible waterslide at the playground, and tennis courts that are great for the popular sport, pickleball.

Jaime Oprita, Fort Gratiot Charter Township Treasurer, explains that popular local activities include fishing on the Fort Gratiot pond/nature reserve.

“We have a dock that ties into our trail system, so there are always families with their kids using it to fish,” she says.

The reserve includes many natural areas, with a wide paved trail surrounding Kettlewell Pond, providing access for biking, walking, running, fishing and waterfowl viewing. The ADA accessible fishing platform provides access to the waters edge.

“Bird and animal watching is popular,” Buechler says. “We have about 250 acres pretty close together, and the Drain Commission has about 80 more acres adjoining that with a few retention ponds that certainly attract a ton of wildlife, especially during migration. We have a resident pair of Ospreys that nest on our park’s cell tower, and it’s always fun, especially when the babies are old enough to see.

For your four-legged friends and family, there’s a dog park at the PetSafe Canine Commons in Fort Gratiot Park. Opened in 2016, this two-acre dog park is free to visitors from dawn until dusk.

“The dog park, which is connected to our ponds and our network of trails, is used a lot,” says Oprita. “There are different things that dogs can climb and cross over. We have a small dog side and a big dog side.

Fort Gratiot Pond in Fort Gratiot Township, Michigan.

Kayaking is also an option, given the area’s proximity to many waterways.

“The kayak launch is definitely popular for going up and down the Black River, an access point,” says Buechler. “There is basically a four mile loop between the Black River Channel, Black River, Lake Huron and the St. Clair River that kayakers and all boaters can do.”

Kayakers can even paddle under the Blue Water Bridge, via Fort Gratiot Sojourn, 10km each way. Work at Keewahdin Beach is being renovated, removing the steps to the beach and replacing them with an ADA-accessible walkway.

Keewahdin Beach is included in our listing of seven public beaches you may not have heard of on Michigan’s Thumb Coast.

Disability Network creates equitable experiences for all

The Disability Network Eastern Michigan (DNEM) serves Oakland, Macomb, Huron, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, and Tuscola counties. DNEM Community Relations Manager Chip Werner says he hopes the accessibility conversation can evolve to include more universal designs to create equitable experiences for everyone.

“Accessibility is very broad and encompassing, and it’s also very personal,” says Werner. Disability can include physical barriers, developmental barriers and emotional barriers, according to Werner. “It’s a big topic,” he says. “We tend to approach things from a universal design concept.”

Carrie Gerdeman, director of recreation and health services at DNEM, is developing relationships with the Fort Gratiot and Port Huron parks and recreation departments and plans to collaborate on adaptive sports clinics using local parks in 2023.

“Part of our mission is to meet the health and wellness needs of people with disabilities,” says Gerdeman. “One way to do this is to work with local parks and recreation agencies to improve adaptive recreation offerings. DNEM plans to use local park facilities and staff to deliver a variety of inclusive recreation programs over the coming year. »

Inclusive recreational workshops are beneficial for both participants and volunteers, Werner says.

“There is no doubt that for many people this is the first time they have taken advantage of some of these opportunities, and it is a great pleasure to share this with them,” he says. “We find that our volunteers often derive immense joy from this, as they can share a part of their lives that is important to them. »

In the future, DNEM hopes to add adaptive fishing, adaptive cycling and adaptive archery into its programming for the regions it serves. Werner says the barriers they’re trying to redirect can be developmental or physical. Physical needs may include adequate wheelchair locks on the dock or boat, additional means of securing fishing rods when casting or reeling, and additional practical instructions to ensure people feel comfortable and can fully benefit from these experiences.

Look forward

Buechler says the Township of Fort Gratiot is always forward thinking about how to provide more generations with recreation and ways to enjoy the area outdoors.

“We hired an engineering company to design a master plan for 100 acres that we own, potentially extending to sports fields, a field or something, maybe a campground,” he says. “We’re in the early design phase of this.”

“Right now there is a lot of money available to really make investments that will benefit future generations,” he says. “We’re trying to figure out the best way to do that, and it looks like investing in our park system is a good way and will give us a good return on investment.”

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