For two memorable years I went to meeting after meeting of the committee charged with proposing new regulations for accessible trails. The Americans with Disabilities Act was the spur for addressing accessibility of our public lands and outdoor recreation areas. Our committee issued its report in 1999.

In the 14 years since, the issue evolved into an effort to define accessibility on federal lands. The new rule and technical specifications document covers accessible trails and related facilities in great detail. It’s called “Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines; Outdoor Developed Areas.” Future rulemaking will be needed for the guidelines to apply to non-federal lands under the ADA. But the new Guidelines are the “best practices” for accessibility currently available.

Dimensions for an accessible camping or picnic area fire ring

Dimensions for an accessible camping or picnic area fire ring

Looking at accessibility is closely related to better trail design. Certainly rocky, steep, and rutted pathways are the trail experience that many are used to. But an important trend across the country is identifying the real problems with our trails, and building routes that don’t need endless maintenance and renovation. Flowing the water off trails, avoiding obstacles, and keeping slopes moderate are all ways to decrease maintenance needs.

We hope everyone involved in trails will use the new Guidelines as a learning opportunity. In the larger picture, accessibility is the real goal of the trails movement. Our efforts should be focused on making trails part of daily life, not just something you do when you have an entire Saturday, or a major driving expedition. And we need all kinds of trails, from paved greenways to remote tracks.

Our slogan is still “Trails for All Americans.” And as Christopher Douwes of FHWA and I wrote in 2007, “when it comes to making trails more available to everybody, most of us need to raise our accessibility awareness. Let’s get smarter! We’ll improve our trails for everyone, and it’s the right thing to do.”

— Stuart Macdonald, American Trails Magazine and website editor

Read more and download the complete document on the American Trails Accessibility Guidelines page

Print Friendly