Thanks to the ingenuity of one individual and the financial support of many, people with disabilities or those who experience mobility issues can now more easily participate in Alabama Extension’s outdoor programs held around the state.
Regional Extension Agent Bence Carter spearheaded an Extension initiative to raise funds to contract Mobility Quad to modify a Polaris Ranger, an off-road capable utility terrain vehicle or UTV, to allow an individual in a wheelchair to ramp into the UTV, be secured for transport and safely maneuver to a program site.
“Making outdoor programs more accessible brings nature and the outdoors to those who otherwise might not get to experience it,” said Carter. “Now, with this modified UTV, more people have the opportunity to learn from these enriching programs.”
Off-road landowner tours and forest classrooms are the settings for
many extension programs that allow attendees to learn and experience natural resources management topics in outdoor environments.
Though traditional handicap-accessible golf carts are available, they are
not as effective for maneuvering unpaved areas where extension programs are sometimes offered.
To fund this project, Alabama Extension sought external funding from its program partners which included Alabama TREASURE Forest Association, Wiregrass RC&D, Coffee County Extension Office, Houston County Spurs Chapter of National Wild Turkey Federation and First South Farm Credit to combine their funding in the amount of $26,730.
To ensure the safety of both the driver and passenger, Alabama Extension staff using the UTV undergo training in the Auburn University Golf Cart and Non-conventional Vehicle Safety Training program.
In only months, this equipment has been used in events like America’s Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors (AHERO), Alabama Landowner’s Conference, National Peanut Festival and Landmark Park’s Fall Farm Day.
“Educational events that take place outside of the classroom can be a great way to learn about the outdoors,” said Mark Smith, Forestry Wildlife and Natural Resources Extension Coordinator in the College of Forestry, Wildlife
and Environment. “We appreciate Bence’s efforts and the support of
our partners to make these programs more accessible for Alabamians.”
Smith hopes that ACES can one day expand the fleet to other parts of the state.
“If the demand exists and we can secure additional funding, we will work to acquire UTVs for each of the seven geographic areas served by the Extension REAs,” said Smith.
Until then, other regional agents and Auburn University employees certified through the Auburn University Golf Cart and Non-conventional Vehicle Safety Training program can request this unit for their program by contacting Carter at email@example.com.
Individuals or companies interested in funding additional UTVs for the state may contact Smith for more information at (334) 844-8099 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Written by Jamie Anderson)