By Jessica Mathews /

New accessible hunting and wildlife viewing blinds have been installed at the Pinckney Recreation Area.

The new barrier-free blinds are located on property behind the Lyndon Township Hall offices at M-52 and North Territorial Road, at the Border-to-Border trailhead. The blinds are off an asphalt trail along an active wildlife corridor, said to be great for hunting or viewing. Gravel pathways lead up to the blinds that are described as big 8 by 8 box blinds, with a 4-foot wide door. The blinds were installed at part of a partnership between the non-profit Michigan Operation Freedom Outdoors (MiOFO), the MDNR, Washtenaw County Parks and the Huron Waterloo Pathway Initiative.

MiOFO President Tom Jones is also Vice Chair of the DNR Accessibility Advisory Council. Jones says MiOFO was a community cause before incorporating into a non-profit and helps get people with disabilities and health challenges back out into the outdoors. Jones is a disabled veteran who did two tours with the 101st Airborne Division and returned home in 2007. He said re-integration didn’t go so well for him initially and MiOFO later came about as an idea with the DNR to expand accessibility for people with health challenges, which was a perfect fit for him.

Different programs and hunts designed for hunters with disabilities, veterans and youth are held annually. Early hunt categories are offered for disabled veterans who are rated through Veterans Administration healthcare system, civilians with a permit to hunt from a standing vehicle, the blind and people with a permit to hunt with a laser-sighted device. Jones says they also recently included the deaf community for qualifications to get in to an early hunt. Jones noted the blinds are gifted to the parks systems as long as they offer the early hunts. A two-day Liberty Hunt was held recently but people can still register by lottery to participate in the Independence Hunt that takes place over four days in October.

Jones says the events leave a big impact on people who don’t necessarily have the opportunity to go way out in the woods by themselves and they’re finding avenues to do things they never thought they could. He said everyone has varying challenges but form friendships that extend beyond white-tailed deer season. Jones say the blinds also give people back independence, as some are located 200 yards off a trail while others are one mile back in the woods. Jones says there are a dozen accessible blinds installed in the Sharonville State Game Area in Jackson County. More are scheduled to be installed this fall at park systems in Gladwin, Ionia and Addison Township.

Jones says they try to accommodate any kind of adventure someone wants to get into in the outdoors. He says the blinds were sort of built around a wheelchair perspective from the window levels to getting inside the door – saying they wanted something more universally accessible for people. Jones noted there really isn’t much preventing people from getting outdoors, onto the trails and into the blinds with all of the amenities available. That includes Track Chairs; which are off-road, electronic chairs to help visitors with mobility challenges explore areas where traditional wheelchairs might not be able to. Jones says they’re getting a whole part of the population out that didn’t necessarily have the opportunities before and his goal is to get the accessible blinds installed at every state game area in Michigan. He says they encourage people to come out – adding if they don’t like shooting with a rifle, they can always shoot with a camera.

To ensure availability; people can reserve the new accessible blinds for free at the Pinckney Recreation Area and other state park systems but Recreation Passports are required to enter the parks.

A press release is attached, along with a link to the MiOFO website. Jones says those interested can donate toward the cause, suggest an adventure or a state game area to get blinds installed. He says 100% all funds raised or donated go directly to the cause.

Top Photo: Jones pictured left with Pinckney Recreation Area Manager Chuck Dennison at the new blinds.

Bottom Photo: Hunters take part in the annual Independence Hunt.