Local non-profit makes it easier for wheelchair users to experience nature

Eleven years ago, Sue Eisaguirre founded NatureTrack, a non-profit that connects K-12 students with nature through walks and field trips along the Central Coast. She recently discovered a device to make visits in nature more accessible to people using wheelchairs.

Eisaguirre said Freedom Trax are manufactured in Colorado with a design with continuous treads like what you see on military or construction vehicles.

“It will take a manual wheelchair and turn it into an all-terrain, battery-powered, joystick-powered car,” she said. “It’s capable of walking on sand, on rocky paths, in snow, so it really opens up a whole new area for people in wheelchairs.”

With subsidies and donations, the organization purchased ten of the portable units. They cost about $ 6300 each, which Eisaguirre said is much less than the cost of a motorized wheelchair.

NatureTrack volunteers bring the Freedom Trax systems to local beaches for wheelchair users of all ages to visit. In Pismo Beach, Donald Chan had connected the device to his wheelchair for a beach experience.

“It felt great. It felt nice to be so close to the ocean. We don’t normally get a chance to do that,” he said.

Austin Zimmer from Santa Maria also tried it with his wheelchair. He said he enjoyed being on the beach in the sand instead of looking at the pier.

“It gave me a lot of freedom to explore the beach and go out,” Zimmer said.

Eisaguirre said NatureTrack is now expanding its opportunities for outdoor activities outside of K-12 students.

“We still do our K-12 program during the traditional school day and should there be teachers or students in wheelchairs, we have the Freedom Trax available for them, but now we also offer trips on the weekends,” sei se.

The organization plans trail outings for wheelchair users throughout Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, and they visit a different beach each month.

For more information, go to NatureTrack.org,

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