After child breaks skull on popular toboggan hill, family warns of danger

TOWNSHIP OF GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – Monday marked the first anniversary of the most terrifying moment in Kerri Chamberlain’s life.

“I saw it coming. I saw his head hit the tree, ”recalls the Wyoming-area mom, who visited Provin Trails for the first time on Sunday since her son’s accident.

“I ran down (the hill) and he was there in the snow with blood, and he was unconscious,” Chamberlain said, recalling the sight of his son, Jackson, 7, in seconds. that followed the collision.

It was Sunday January 3, 2021, the last day of the Christmas holidays.

The park was full of hikers and sleds, with cars lining 4 Mile Road and pouring into the parking lot of neighboring Robinette’s.

“I wasn’t sure how safe the conditions at Provin Trails were as there were so many trees around the hill and at the back,” Chamberlain wrote in his first email to News 8.

But, despite his apprehension, Chamberlain allowed his children to sled.

“I was just like, ‘Everyone is doing it. It is such a popular place to be, therefore it must be safe. Obviously it wasn’t, ”she said.

On Jackson’s very first descent on an icy hill adjacent to the main toboggan hill, he hit a tree head-first.

“His face was glassy. I had never seen him with his eyes open but a completely blank look on his face. But, after what seemed like an eternity to me, it kind of stirred, ”Chamberlain said.

The collision fractured Jackson’s skull and caused brain bleeding.

But after several days in the hospital and several brain scans, doctors told the Chamberlains that their son would survive, likely without long-term damage.


“Helen DeVos’ neurology team explained that if his head had touched any other angle, it’s likely he wouldn’t have survived. They used the word ‘miraculous’ to describe his recovery from such a serious head injury, ”Chamberlain said.

Over the next year, Chamberlain heard about at least two other families whose children suffered serious injuries while sledding at Provin Trails.

The 46-acre park, located off 4 Mile Road NE west of Robinette’s, is heavily forested and surrounds a large sand dune, which is a popular spot for sledding.

“I find it worrying that Provin Trails is such a popular place for tobogganing in Kent County with all of its trees. I don’t know what can be done, but if I can help protect another child with my son’s story, I would like it to be shared, ”Chamberlain concluded in his email message to News 8.

Jackson, now 8, admitted he wasn’t looking straight ahead when he walked down the hill that day a year ago.

“I didn’t look up at all. I was on my stomach. So my head was looking at the snow, ”he said, explaining that he had never seen the tree coming. “I was walking down the hill, and then, like, it all went black.”


Chamberlain recently contacted Kent County to share his concerns.

County officials responded to News 8’s investigation with a statement explaining that they also consider Provin Trails too forested for sledding.

“We want all of our residents to enjoy our parks safely, so we carefully select the appropriate activities for each park,” wrote Lori Latham, Director of Communications and Government Relations for Kent County. “In fact, our the site lists the activities available in each of our parks during the winter months. At present, tobogganing is recommended in Johnson and Wabasis Lake Parks (only) and appropriate signage is posted in these parks. Recommended activities at Provin Trails Park are hiking and cross-country skiing due to the heavily wooded terrain.

Latham said the Chamberlains have informed the county that Grand Rapids Kids lists Provin Trails as a popular tobogganing site on its website.

“Our team contacted Grand Rapids Kids to request that this location be removed from their site. … Additionally, in light of this information, we are reviewing our signage policy and urging all parents to research other sites for sledding. … We are happy to hear that Jackson has recovered from his accident and we appreciate Ms. Chamberlain’s offer to help promote sledding safety in our community. Our team will keep Ms. Chamberlain updated on the Grand Rapids Kids website and any changes, if any, to our signage, ”Lathan concluded in an email to News 8.

At this time, there is no signage at Provin Trails regarding the slide.

News 8 also reached out to Grand Rapids Kids, who responded shortly thereafter.

“This error has just been brought to our attention. We removed it from our list of toboggan runsWrote Elizabeth Rudd, writer and guide specialist at Grand Rapids Kids.


A study of french published in June 2021 reported a “dramatic” increase in sleigh accidents during the COVID-19 pandemic as more families sought outdoor activities amid the restrictions. Doctors at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital reported an increase in sledding injuries in western Michigan in 2020.

“The sleigh injuries from last winter were a huge factor in our winter trauma season here at DeVos Children’s Hospital,” Dr Erica Michiels said on a Zoom call with News 8.

“It was a very big factor last year with a lot of major injuries and then a lot of injuries which from our point of view were minor but certainly not minor from a child’s point of view or from a children’s point of view. parents, ”said Michiels, deputy director of the pediatric emergency department at DeVos Children’s.

On average last winter, the hospital recorded one to three tobogganing accidents per week out of five to ten total injuries attributed to winter sports in general (skating, sliding on a tube, skiing, etc.).

“If it is a big steep hill but there is nothing to touch at the bottom, it will be much safer than a hill which looks more tame but there is a pole of fence at the bottom, ”Michiels said.

Michiels said it is essential for parents to carefully examine the area where their child is sledding.

“Make sure they can’t slip into a parked car, fence post, or tree. Make sure it’s wide open. This is the main cause of injury that we see is that the kids get going and they slide into a big stationary object that causes them big injuries, ”said Michiels. “We always recommend wearing helmets too. So just like you would put your child in a helmet when snowboarding or going down the ski slope, it is very important to have it in a helmet on the toboggan run.

Michiels demands that her own young teenager wear a helmet when sledding, a rule she also follows.

“I always tell people that we are good at mending arms and legs and, my God, we can usually mend the tummy, but when you have a massive head injury it’s something very hard to deal with. “she said. “Unlike bones, the brain doesn’t repair itself. So protecting the head is the number one safety recommendation when sending your child on a sled.

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