Leaving the wheelchair behind: Accessible kayak/canoe launch installed at Lake Chaminwood

The new accessible kayak/canoe launch at the Forest Preserve District of Will County’s Lake Chaminwood Preserve is a hit with Bill Bogdan, an adaptive recreationalist from Mokena.

The launch opened in mid-September  at the preserve, which is located on Shepley Road, west of Interstate 55, near Channahon. As soon as he heard a new launch by a company called BoardSafe had been installed, Bogdan headed to Lake Chaminwood to test it.

“It is totally awesome,” he said during a recent interview at the preserve.

Bogdan, who is an incomplete paraplegic because he is paralyzed from his knee down on his left leg and from his hip down on his right leg, said anyone can use the launch to enjoy a fun day of paddling on the lake. He works as a disability liaison for the Secretary of State’s office and has participated in many adaptive sports, including mountain biking, indoor rock climbing, hand cycling, scuba diving and sled hockey. But he said being on the water is special.

“The best thing I love about kayaking is that I get to leave my wheelchair behind,” he said.

But without an accessible launch, it is much more difficult for Bogdan to enjoy kayaking.

“(With) this one, I was able to transfer smoothly and dryly,” he said with a big smile on his face.

The accessible launch at Lake Chaminwood allowed Bogdan to roll down a ramp while he pulls his kayak on an adjacent gangway to a floating dock. He then transferred himself to the kayak using a three-level seat and he used the launch’s overhead bars and side rails to pull himself out of the chute and into the water where he enjoyed kayaking with his wife, Laura.

Bogdan said he really likes that instructions are posted on the side of the launch and a QR code that can be accessed with a smart phone links to a video demonstration.

Universal design
Matt Novander, the Forest Preserve’s chief landscape architect, said the kayak/canoe launch project is one of many ways the District is working to make the preserves accessible to all.

“The Forest Preserve and accessibility – we take it seriously, as everybody should,” he said. “And universal design is our guiding principle for all of it.”

Universal design provides equipment that can be used by everyone and that blends into the landscape seamlessly, Novander explained.

“The canoe and kayak launch isn’t just for people with disabilities or adaptive sports users,” he said. “It’s designed so that anybody, whether you need an accommodation or not, can use it.”

The kayak launch and floating dock will remain in the water year-round. Kayaking on Forest Preserve lakes is only prohibited when there is ice on the water.

Lake Chaminwood’s new launch was partially funded with an $80,000 Illinois Department of Natural Resources Boat Access Grant. In addition to the state grant, improvements at Lake Chaminwood were made possible by a $750,000 gift to The Nature Foundation of Will County. Improvements included a larger parking lot, a new entrance and welcome area. Future improvements will connect the Lake Chaminwood trail to the I&M Canal Trail and install accessible fishing piers.

For more information on the Forest Preserve District of Will County, visit ReconnectWithNature.org.