Southeast Minnesota parks offer greater accessibility
4/18/2022 by Brian A. Lynch, M.D., and Cassandra Greenwood, M.P.H.
The outdoors is for everyone, and Southeast Minnesota offers many accessible park facilities and activities for people of all ages and abilities. Spring brings longer hours of daylight, increasing temperatures, and budding trees and blooms, making it a great time to be outdoors. As an added benefit, spending time in nature is good for your health. Studies show that being in nature can decrease stress levels, improve mental health, and increase overall well-being.
You have many local accessible amenities to try out this season, including Trackchairs, cave tours, nature playgrounds and camping. Southeast Minnesota parks and trails have something for everyone.
Minnesota state parks and trails throughout the region offer a variety of accessible opportunities to experience the outdoors. Minnesota residents with disabilities can get reduced-rate Minnesota state parks permits and licenses. Adaptive hunting, fishing and camping programs are offered through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Check the calendar for event postings. Sign language interpretation is available at naturalist programs. Visitors are asked to inquire two weeks prior to an event to request an interpreter.
Also available are:
AccessABLE Recreation Program
Rochester Parks & Recreation offers a year-round AccessABLE Recreation Program for people with diverse intellectual and physical abilities. This program offers activities for people ages 4 and up.
Programming includes swim lessons, after-school activities, summer day camp, special events, and social and recreation events. Current programs and other information are on the Rochester Parks & Recreation website. Miracle League baseball is offered for all abilities each summer in Rochester. Weekly games are played on the Miracle Field, a barrier-free, rubberized turf field that accommodates athletes of all abilities.
Rochester Parks & Recreation has adaptive bicycles available for free rentals. These bicycles include a tricycle and two tandem side-by-side bicycles.
The tandem bicycles have battery-operated assist technology so they can be pedaled more easily. The bicycles are suited to people 47 inches or taller and up to 250 pounds. They are not intended for smaller children.
Bicycles will be available to reserve weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from June 13 through Aug. 1. Reservations can be made either online or by phone.
Adaptive bicycles also will be available at Silver Lake Station for drop-by rentals from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on these Saturdays: June 11, June 18, July 9, July 16, Aug. 6 and Aug. 13.
Trails and parks
- Southeast Minnesota has many accessible park and trail features for families and individuals:
Wheelchair-accessible cave tours are available at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park.
Frontenac State Park has an accessible overlook where you can get a gorgeous view of Lake Pepin and the Mississippi River.
Pedal-assist and power-driven mobility devices are allowed on Minnesota state trails, including the Douglas, Great River Ridge, Shooting Star and Root River state trails.
Whitewater State Park has an accessible exhibit room in the visitors' center.
Path of Imagination Natural Playscape is a nature-based playground at Oxbow Park. It has many accessible components and paths to provide fun experiences for all children.
Zollman Zoo at Oxbow Park has accessible paths to bring you right up to the animal action.
Nearly all of the picnic shelters at Oxbow Park and Chester Woods Park have an accessible path going from the parking lots to the shelters.
Trackchairs can navigate through many different terrains and allow you to immerse yourself deep into the natural areas of the parks or travel long distances.
In Oxbow Park and Chester Woods Park, Trackchairs are available for free to check out during regular office hours. In Quarry Hill Park, a Trackchair is available for use on weekends. Reservations are required, and these reservations must be placed a minimum of three days in advance.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has Trackchairs at select state parks. Myre Big Island State Park will have one available for free rentals in the summer.
Camping is available at Oxbow and Chester Woods parks. Both campgrounds have several sites that comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), with blacktop camping pads and easy access to the bathhouse. Whitewater State Park provides accessible campsites and camper cabins.
Accessible kayak/canoe launches are available at Chester Woods and Lake Zumbro parks. Accessible docks are provided for easier access into the water in your personal watercraft.
Accessible fishing piers are available at Chester Woods and Lake Zumbro parks. Several piers at each park provide ADA-compliant paths to the pier, as well as accessibility on the piers themselves. Whitewater State Park also provides accessible fishing piers.
Cascade Lake and Foster-Arend beaches have accessible mats and paths to the water. A water wheelchair is also available for free rental from Rochester Parks & Recreation.
For more information on accessible park features, nature and health connections, and local outdoor events, visit Southeast Minnesota Park Rx Facebook page.
Brian A. Lynch, M.D., is a primary care pediatrician at Mayo Family Clinic Northwest in Rochester. He co-chairs the Primary Care Work Group of the Mayo Clinic Obesity Council and chairs the Primary Care Obesity Task Force. Dr. Lynch works closely with the Southeast Minnesota Park Rx team to promote the physical and mental health benefits of spending time in nature with his patients and colleagues.
Cassandra Greenwood, M.P.H., is a community health specialist with Olmsted County Public Health Services. She works on chronic disease prevention initiatives, including Southeast Minnesota Park Rx.