CLEVELAND — The 53 Accessible Alliance is a charitable organization founded in honor of Chad McClung, a northeast Ohio man who died of ALS in August 2023.
McClung, an avid outdoorsman, needed a wheelchair to get around at the end of his life and his family struggled to find accessible trails they could visit.
“I think that really opened our eyes and kind of sparked the beginning of 53 Accessible Alliance and kind of, I think that really started our research into how we could make this the best, accessible place for people,” said Lizzy McClung, Chad’s daughter.
According to the ALS Association, ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that causes patients to slowly lose the strength and ability to move any part of their body, and there is no cure.
“We were told between two and five years he would have to be here, and so, we decided to make the best of it,” said Chad’s wife, Heidi McClung.
Heidi McClung said she and her husband wanted to maximize their time together as a family with their daughter Lizzy, who took time off school to be with her parents.
For his 53rd birthday, Heidi McClung and Lizzy McClung started the 53 Accessible Alliance to fundraise to make a trail at Beech Creek Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve accessible for people who use walkers, wheelchairs, strollers and more.
“So Beech Creek is so close to where we live,” Heidi said. “And we’d often come out here and hike on the property.”
They said they were overwhelmed with the support they got from the community for their project, which was being called Chad’s Way.
McClung, who took an interest in birdwatching at the end of his life, started making birdhouses to place alongside the trail, and Heidi said his siblings were the ones who built the accessible ramp on the trail.
Unfortunately, Chad died just before the trail was completed.
His funeral and the trail’s grand opening were on the same weekend in Aug. 2023.
Even though he never got to see it, Lizzy said she feels close to him there.
“I have found myself coming out here a lot more now that it’s been completed. It kind of is like a quiet place when I’m stressed out or overwhelmed, and it’s a place where I feel like I can be really close to my dad, too,” she said. “Sitting up by the pond, or walking the trails or reading a book, this place has just turned out to mean a lot to me since it reminds me of him.”
More than anything, they said they’re happy to know the trail is now more accessible for all.
“I think if chad were here today, he would be very proud that he accomplished this,” Heidi said. “And as a family, I think we’re pretty proud to have this as part of his legacy.”
The McClungs are already fundraising for another project to expand accessibility in the outdoors with another trail in their community.
To learn more about their efforts, click here.