Chad's Way trail: New wheelchair-accessible path opens at Beech Creek Botanical Garden

Posted on December 18, 2023


In partnership with The Repository, every Monday, Stark Community Foundation is highlighting positive happenings in our community. Here’s to Good News Mondays! 

Beech Creek Botanical Garden & Nature Preserve recently installed a wheelchair-accessible nature trail on its newly expanded land, thanks to the generosity of the 53 Accessible Alliance Fund at the Greater Alliance Foundation.

The trail spans a small pine forest and features a newly constructed boardwalk shooting out over a 20-foot ravine and overlooking a creek at the Washington Township preserve.

In total, the new path is nearly half a mile of ADA wheelchair-accessible nature trail and named Chad’s Way in honor of Chad McClung, the inspiration behind the 53 Accessible Alliance Fund. 

In May 2020, Chad McClung, a loving husband, father and community member, was diagnosed with ALS, a rapidly progressive neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells in control of muscles. Unfortunately, the disease progressed quickly, causing Chad to be paralyzed soon after his diagnosis. 

Chad enjoyed spending time outside connecting with nature in the places he could access with his wheelchair. For those in a wheelchair, tree roots, deep gravel, sand, mulch, two-inch curbs, inclines, standing water, potholes and broken surfaces are common challenges.

Heidi created the 53 Accessible Alliance Charitable Fund for Chad as a gift for his 53rd birthday to celebrate his life, and they began a journey to improve hiking trails and make nature accessible for Chad and others living with mobility disabilities. 

Through funding from Stark Community Foundation, Beech Creek purchased the 6.34-acre property adjacent to its existing land to further its development as a public garden and environmental education facility for the greater Stark County area— the perfect setting for the new boardwalk path and ideal way for people like Chad to continue making memories with their families.  

Chad passed away peacefully after his brave battle with ALS on Aug. 7 at the age of 54. 

Although he never had the opportunity to enjoy the wheelchair-accessible trails, Heidi and Lizzy would still bring him to Beech Creek to connect with nature. While their access to some of the best spots was limited, all three agreed that those were great days spent together.  

In August, over 200 community members celebrated the ribbon-cutting and official opening of Chad’s Way. This new trail has made it possible for thousands of people living with paralysis or mobility restrictions to have a beautiful place to explore, experience and connect with nature in Chad’s memory. 

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