Muskegon adventure park showcases accessible recreation

Muskegon Luge and Adventure Sports Park, located in Muskegon State Park, has prioritized accessible recreational opportunities. The park, known for such activities as zip lining, archery, luge, rock climbing, and more, recently hosted a universal accessibility open house to showcase its adaptive recreation offerings.

The event, held in June, featured free activities that included zip lining, rock climbing, wheel luge, and archery, demonstrating the park's commitment to inclusivity. The nonprofit park partnered with MOKA Foundation, the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to facilitate the event.

Muskegon Luge and Adventure Sports Park offers adaptive UTV for guests who use wheelchairs to explore the park.

Jeff VanDyke, a peer mentor and community presenter at Disability Network West Michigan, tried out the adaptive rock climbing wall, which was added to the park two years ago. VanDyke, who was born with cerebral palsy, said his experience illustrated the personal and broader impact of accessible recreation.

“Climbing the wall was a surreal experience, something I had always wanted to try but was never sure if it’d be possible,” VanDyke says. “The opportunity was not only important on a personal level, but I think on a larger scale it shows the world that with the right support and adaptations, those living with disabilities can do just about anything they desire.”

Adapting to user needs

Van Dyke’s experience at the park is an example of how its team works to adapt equipment to people’s needs.

“Through the use of special equipment and various adaptations, we are able to provide access to anyone who wants to try any of our activities,” explains Daniel Bonner, adventure specialist at the park. “We work with participants and discuss the best ways to adapt based on individual needs. We are committed to how we can make this experience better for people, and over the years, we have adapted as we've listened to people with disabilities.”

Jeff VanDyke tries out the adaptive rock climbing wall at Muskegon Luge and Adventure Sports Park.

For example, Van Dyke felt like his initial equipment setup didn’t provide enough support for his legs and feet. Staff responded by adding gear to provide the extra support he wanted.

“We approach everyone the same way, whether somebody comes in in a wheelchair or somebody without a disability comes in,” says Bonner. “We are going to give them the same exact options and then go from there and figure out what they need moving forward to be successful in whatever they want to do outside.”

Van Dyke adds that the adaptive mechanisms not only helped him reach new heights from a physical perspective in the moment, but hopefully send a broader message that anything is possible with the right support system around people with disabilities.

"A diagnosis or disability might be the starting point for some of us, but it certainly isn't the ceiling," says Van Dyke. "We are here, we are capable, and we can accomplish anything we can dream of as long as the right supports surround us."

The park's features include widened pathways, ramps, and packed dolomite surfaces for easy wheelchair access. Equipment like the all-terrain track chair, donated by Kali's Cure for Paralysis Foundation Inc., and a modified utility task vehicle ensures that visitors with mobility issues can explore the park's diverse terrain.

Its adaptive programs include:
  • Luge: Allows individuals without lower body mobility to steer a sled using reins.
  • Zip line: Utilizes an "easy seat" for support.
  • Ice sled: Enables skating with spiked sticks for movement.
  • Cross country skiing: Uses sit skis for upper body propulsion.
“We have really tried to be innovative and offer recreation for everyone, regardless of ability,” Bonner says. “We have a passion for what we do, and believe the most important things that we can do as an organization is to provide outdoor experiences for people of all abilities.”

Muskegon Luge and Adventure Sports Park has a all-terrain track chair that can be used to explore the park's trails.

The park began 40 years ago offering cross country skiing and other winter sports, and added summer activities in 2009. Summer activities include a 1,400-foot dual zip line, a 38-foot rock climbing wall, and archery. Winter offerings include ice skating, cross country skiing, and luge. Fees vary based on the activity selection, with special rates available for group outings and school events.

Bonner has been working for the facility off and on for 20 years, beginning as a high school student and continuing through his college summers. He joined full time in 2019 after moving back to Michigan.

"I grew up coming here to cross country ski," Bonner says. "When I moved back, I returned to this special place because of my love for the outdoors."

Providing the best possible experience

The park collaborates with Disability Network and the DNR’s Accessibility Advisory Council to ensure ADA compliance and continuously improve accessibility. The goal is always to go above and beyond the minimum requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Disability Network has been a key resource. At VanDyke’s suggestion, the staff marked new accessible picnic tables with an accessibility logo.

Jeff VanDyke tries out the adaptive rock climbing wall at Muskegon Luge and Adventure Sports Park.

The park has invited Disability Network staff and consumers for a free day that drew 30 people. And Disability Network provides regular disability equity inclusion accessibility training for the staff.

Bonner calls the organization for support when clients reach out for a request. One visitor, who is deaf, reached out about coming to the facility with friends to use the ziplines and asked for an ASL interpreter for the visit. Bonner turned to Disability Network.

“They helped us find an interpreter to come out, and it was really cool,” Bonner says. 

Bonner underscored the park's mission: “We believe adventure is for everyone, regardless of one's abilities. With the use of adaptive sports equipment, we're able to provide access to all our activities to people with varying disabilities.”

Anyone interested in planning a visit should contact the park for more information on accessibility and so it can tailor experiences to individual needs.

This article is a part of the multi-year series Disability Inclusion, exploring the state of West Michigan’s growing disability community. The series is made possible through a partnership with Centers for Independent Living organizations across West Michigan.

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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.