By REBECCA HAZEN
Cloudland Canyon State Park has received an all-terrain wheelchair courtesy of the Amiee Copeland Foundation. The all-terrain wheelchair will provide disabled visitors access to some of the park’s hiking trails.
The Amiee Copeland Foundation was started by Amiee Copeland. After a zip-lining accident in 2012, Copeland, was hospitalized and diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis – a flesh-eating, bacterial infection.
Copeland survived the diagnosis, but the doctors had to amputate both of her hands, right foot, and her entire left leg.
“Before the infection, I was extremely active. You could often find me rock climbing, backpacking and trail running. So, I quickly became frustrated with what seemed to be my new situation – just sitting in a wheelchair. A huge part of who I was no longer seemed accessible to me. And I wasn’t alone. People who use wheelchairs are often separated from the outdoors due to mobility and accessibility issues,” Copeland said on the Foundation’s website, aimeecopelandfoundation.org.
The Amiee Copeland Foundation has provided a fleet of all-terrain wheelchairs for free use by people with disabilities within select Georgia state parks.
Assistant Director of the Foundation, Melanie Dunn, recently visited Cloudland Canyon to test out the wheelchair on the trails.
“It was Amiee’s idea. Part of our initiative is eco-therapy because nature is a healing aspect of life. She had researched the chairs. We had raised funds for the last few years, and we were able to purchase 10 chairs,” Dunn said.
The all-terrain wheelchair is an electric wheelchair with tracks. The wheelchair features different speed levels. The battery, at top speed, will last about three and a half to four hours. It can tilt backwards and forwards to keep the person balanced.
“It will allow the person to be able to experience what people who are able to walk on foot can do. It is amazing. People have said it is like a little tank,” Dunn said.
In Cloudland Canyon, the wheelchairs can access the Overlook Trail, and the Back Country Trail, which is three and a half miles total.
The wheelchairs are currently in the beta testing phase and local volunteers who use wheelchairs are needed to assist in the testing process. To volunteer, the person will need to register on the Amiee Copeland Foundation website, and send proof of disability and a copy of their ID. The wheelchair user will have to take an online course and pass an exam on how to use the all-terrain wheelchair. Then the person will have to make a reservation at the Georgia State Park of their choice, with 48 hours of notice. A second person is required to accompany the person using the wheelchair.
After two to three months of testing, the all-terrain wheelchairs will be launched to the public. Renting the free wheelchairs will require the same process as during the testing phase.
Dunn noted that the Foundation is hoping to launch another chair in an 11th Georgia State Park this summer.
“We are super excited to roll this out to the public. We are the first in the nation to have such a wide scale project like that. We are hoping so many people get out and experience this. I am a double amputee. Amiee is a quad amputee. Just what it has been able to do for us, it’s amazing. There is nothing I love better than to have the sunshine on my face,” Dunn said.
“Conservation is for everyone no matter what limitations or disability they may have. The ability to enable access to previously ‘unaccessible’ areas of the park is important to our mission of conservation through education of the diversity of wildlife of our park and other parks in the Georgia State Park system. We are very excited about the opportunity to host this program,” Brad Gibson, Cloudland Canyon Park Manager, said.