OCQUEOC TOWNSHIP - The National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Michigan Chapter recognized a project to make Ocqueoc Falls more accessible.
Developments that make Ocqueoc Falls universally accessible received the organization's 2013 da Vinci Award for Environmental Adaptation. Through the use of strategically placed stones and a ramp, the waterfall is accessible by multiple paths with various levels of difficulty. The falls are believed to be the only universally accessible publicly owned waterfalls in the country.
Ocqueoc Falls beat out two other finalists in the category, and was one of five products or places to receive the award, Patti Radzik, director of marketing and leadership events for NMSS Michigan Chapter, said. Each award winner is chosen by a committee that evaluates which entrant best fits the concept of universal design.
"We're honoring the people, places and designs, like Ocqueoc Falls, that make the world accessible for all people," she said.
In the award's 14-year history, none have ever gone to state parks or land, Radzik said. The committee was "excited" to see a nomination come in from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
"We open this up to worldwide nominations," she said. "We never know from year to year what we're going to see."
Brenda Curtis designed the improvements at Ocqueoc Falls, DNR State Trail Coordinator Jim Radabaugh said. It was her capstone project of sorts; she's since retired from the department. She also was instrumental in submitting the design for the da Vinci Awards. Winning is a "huge" honor.
"This was in competition with other projects, or in some cases, elements that help people improve their quality of life," he said.
The design at Ocqueoc Falls also could be a taste of things to come for future DNR developments, Radabaugh said. Winning the award serves as affirmation that designing for accessibility is important, even in the outdoors, and Ocqueoc Falls is the perfect example of this.
"We're kind of holding it up there as our ideal, this is where we'd like to be," he said.
Along with raising awareness about multiple sclerosis, the award also serves to raise money for the organization, Radzik said. They help to bring innovations for people with disabilities to the forefront, and it's always difficult choosing a winner for each category.
"We're just honored that people submit the nominations," she said.