By Kristin Fox
“Everybody should have the opportunity for adventure.” This statement is found on the website of Catalyst Sports, a non-profit organization that provides outdoor adventures for people with physical disabilities.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has collaborated with Catalyst Sports to hold a series of hiking and biking events to give those with disabilities the opportunity to explore the great outdoors.
This Saturday, the team will host a fall adaptive hike along the Deep Creek Trail in Bryson City on Saturday, October 21, 2023 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Not only will participants get the opportunity to experience hiking on a trail, many for the first time, they will also learn more about the natural and cultural history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from a ranger.
“The Smoky National Park had the passion and vision to provide opportunities for those with disabilities to access the outdoors and enjoy the trails,” said Eric Gray, Founder/Executive Director of Catalyst Sports. “It is really fulfilling to hike the trails with people who have never had an opportunity like this. Many have never had the opportunity to go on the trails because of their disability. They have lived in the Bryson City/Deep Creek Area all their lives but have not had access to the trails.”
“It breaks the hearts of the rangers who are very proud of the parks,” he added. “These events give individuals an opportunity to visit the trails, the opportunity to be a part of something in their community that they have known about all their lives but have never had access to.”
“Hiking the trails of our national parks is on many peoples’ bucket lists, many just haven’t had the opportunity to visit the trails because of their disabilities,” said Gray. “We have people travel from far away to participate in these events, just to have the opportunity to hike on the trails of our national parks.”
Saturday’s event concludes a four-part series offered by the park and Catalyst Sports. Through the biking and hiking programs, rangers and volunteers have worked together to make public lands more accessible for visitors of all abilities by offering the adaptive programs this summer and fall. Off-road wheelchairs and adaptive mountain bikes are used on three trails evaluated for adaptive equipment.
As a part of the series, two other events were held in the summer, a hike event along the Deep Creek Trail and a bike event along Forge Creek Road in Cades Cover, Tennessee. An additional hike was held on the Little River Trail, Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
During these inclusive programs adaptive equipment is welcome. Limited adaptive equipment may be available for use during the program or visitors are welcome to bring their own equipment.
Registration is required to ensure adequate equipment and volunteers are available for the programs. To register or find more information, visit Catalyst Sports at www.catalystsports.org.
Directions to the hiking event at Deep Creek from Cherokee, NC, take US Route 74W to Exit 67 (Veterans Blvd) into Bryson City. Turn right on Main Street and left on Everett Street. Cross the railroad tracks and turn right on Depot Street. At the stop sign, turn left onto Deep Creek Road. Go approximately 2.5 miles to the Deep Creek Park entrance. Stay straight, pass Deep Creek Campground and Picnic area on the right. Drive 1/10 mile and park at the Deep Creek Trail parking lot.
The adaptive programs are made possible through a National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) grant and major funding support from Toyota Motor North America.
With cutting edge adaptive equipment and passionate and knowledgeable staff and volunteers of Catalyst Sports, participants are given access to a wide range of adventures like rock climbing, cycling, mountain biking, kayaking and hiking in different cities throughout the southeast. Throughout the year, Catalyst Sports also offers veterans programs and special events.
The mission of Catalyst Sports is to give people with physical disabilities access to the life-changing impact of adventure within a supportive and inclusive community.
The values of Catalyst Sports are:
- Passionate about creating access for people with disabilities.
- High expectations for everyone.
- Intentional – Everything we do, we do with purpose.
- Believe in the power of people and community.
Access, community and impact define the goals of Catalyst Sports:
ACCESS: Through innovative adaptive equipment and with the support of trained volunteers, we break down the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from accessing adventure sports in their community.
COMMUNITY: All of our adventures take place alongside a supportive and inclusive community of people.
IMPACT: Our adventures impact the participants, the volunteers and the entire community. Through these programs, people with disabilities are empowered to discover their strengths and abilities and everyone discovers that we all play a part.
To learn more about Catalyst Sports, future events, how to participate, volunteer or make a donation to the non-profit, please visit their website.