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All-terrain wheelchair makes Troy University arboretum accessible for all

Troy University arboretum’s more than 10 miles of walking trails are now fully accessible to the public.

Back row, L-R: Dr. Alvin Diamond and T-ROY. Front row, L-R: Jonah McWaters and Hank Poore.
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Troy University arboretum’s more than 10 miles of walking trails are now fully accessible to the public, thanks to the donation of an all-terrain wheelchair courtesy of the Hank Poore Foundation.

The GRIT Freedom Chair was presented on Friday, June 7 by Hank Poore, Foundation founder, and Ashley Ferry, executive director.

“I am excited to be here to give TROY the Freedom Chair to allow individuals the opportunity to go on the trails,” he said. “This chair will allow their students who require a wheelchair to enjoy nature.”

Ferry added, “We are thrilled to be here. This is a beautiful space. We’re about making outdoors and recreation accessible for everyone—there’s no reason everyone shouldn’t be able to get out and enjoy your beautiful trails, and we’re thrilled to make that possible with the Freedom Chair.”

Dr. Alvin Diamond, arboretum director and biology professor, said their goal was to make the arboretum trails accessible to everyone. Because the existing nature trails at the arboretum are naturally-surfaced with exposed roots, uneven slopes, areas of loose sandy soil and seasonally wet spots, grant applications to pave them were unsuccessful. Instead, Diamond said they looked for grants to obtain an all-terrain wheelchair.

“Access to natural areas within Pike County and throughout Southeast Alabama for wheelchair users and those with paralysis is extremely limited at this time. We wanted to make the arboretum trails accessible to everyone,” he said. “Providing this all-terrain wheelchair will allow students and residents to explore the full extent of the arboretum and participate in all of the activities we have to offer.

“We are very grateful to the Hank Poore Foundation for funding our grant and providing this service to the Troy community and surrounding areas.”

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Jonah McWaters, a TROY graduate who became paralyzed after a car accident in January 2004, lived an active lifestyle before his accident and has strived since to maintain that lifestyle—he is a long-time employee of Troy Parks and Recreation and competed for a spot on the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Team. 

McWaters had the opportunity to test drive the Freedom Chair on the trails and said it was a great addition for the community.

“People that have had accidents or are born a different way just want to be included in everyday activities, like taking a walk with friends,” he said. “I did all this stuff before my accident, and now this provides an opportunity to get back out and do it again. Everyone wants to be thought of, so to even think about having this as an opportunity is amazing. Now, even though I’m different, I don’t look different because I’m with the group and we’re going along the trails. It’s awesome.”

Based in Tuscaloosa, Ala., the Hank Poore Foundation was established in 2020 by Poore and his mother, Kathy Poore, with the mission of providing opportunities and experiences for people with disabilities in order to foster authentic connections between individuals, groups and community. 

“I personally have had opportunities to do these kinds of things, and a lot of individuals may not have had the same opportunities as me,” Poore said. “This is a way to give back to the community and allow individuals to have the same opportunities as me.”

The Freedom Chair is available for use to students, faculty and the public at no cost. To coordinate use of the chair and to ensure there is a volunteer to assist in demonstrating how it’s used, contact Diamond at [email protected].  

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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