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Guidelines for trails on Federal lands were published in the Federal Register September 26, 2013. Guidelines for non-Federal sites covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will be developed separately through a subsequent rulemaking.

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Access Board Issues Final Guidelines for Federal Outdoor Recreation Sites

From the U.S. Access Board

On September 26th the U.S. Access Board issued new accessibility guidelines for outdoor areas developed by the federal government. The guidelines provide detailed specifications for accessible trails, picnic and camping areas, viewing areas, beach access routes and other components of outdoor developed areas when newly built or altered. They also provide exceptions for situations where terrain and other factors make compliance impracticable.

photo of wheelchair on dirt trail

Accessible natural-surface trail at Finley
National Wilflide Refuge, Oregon

“The Board is eager to release these guidelines, which were long in the making, to explain how access to the great outdoors can be achieved,” states Access Board Chair Karen L. Braitmayer, FAIA. “The greatest challenge in developing these guidelines was balancing what’s needed for accessibility against what’s possible in natural environments with limited development.”

Requirements for trails, outdoor recreation access routes, and beach access routes address surface characteristics, width, and running and cross slopes. Exceptions are included for these and other provisions under certain conditions stipulated in the guidelines. Departures are allowed where compliance is not practicable because of terrain or prevailing construction practices. Exceptions are also recognized where compliance would conflict with mandates such as the Endangered Species Act and other laws or where it would fundamentally alter a site’s function or purpose.

The guidelines originate from recommendations prepared by an advisory panel chartered by the Board, the Outdoor Developed Areas Regulatory Negotiation Committee. They were made available for public comment twice and finalized according to the feedback received. The rule applies only to national parks and other federal sites, but the Board plans to follow-up with rulemaking to address non-federal sites under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at a later date.

“The Board is moving ahead to issue the guidelines first for federal sites out of expediency,” explains Braitmayer. “In developing its guidelines, the Board must assess and aggregate their impacts. The Board was able to complete the necessary assessment on sites in the federal sector, but will require more time to analyze the impacts on the broader range of sites controlled by state and local governments covered by the ADA.”

The rule applies to federal agencies that develop outdoor areas for recreational purposes, including the National Park Service, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Reclamation.

The new requirements will become mandatory on November 25, 2013 as part of the Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Standards, which apply to facilities that are built, altered, or leased with federal funds. For more info about the ABA:  www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards/buildings-and-sites/about-the-aba-standards.

For further information on the rule, visit the Access Board website or contact Bill Botten at outdoor@access-board.gov, (202) 272-0014 (v), or (202) 272-0073 (TTY).

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