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Nearly $4.8 Million Allocated to Make the State Forest Preserve More Accessible

From New York Department of Environmental Conservation (August 2001)

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Erin M. Crotty, State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Adirondack Park Agency (APA) Chairman Richard Lefebvre today announced an historic agreement that will ensure public access to Forest Preserve land in the Adirondack and Catskill parks for persons with disabilities, while preserving the "forever wild" protections of these lands under the State Constitution.

Under the agreement, signed today and ordered by Federal District Court Judge Lawrence Kahn, DEC will spend nearly $4.8 million over a five-year period to make accessible to persons with disabilities parking areas, restrooms, fishing access sites, boat launches, campsites, picnic areas, equestrian mounting platforms and DEC offices in Warrensburg. In addition, the agency will provide signs and promotional materials listing recreational opportunities in the Forest Preserve for persons with disabilities. The agreement settles a lawsuit brought under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

"Under Governor Pataki's leadership, New York State has protected more than 300,000 acres of open space and greatly expanded outdoor recreational opportunities," DEC Commissioner Crotty said. "This agreement will ensure that individuals with disabilities are able to enjoy the majestic scenery and solitude of the Forest Preserve, while ensuring that these precious lands are protected for future generations."

State Attorney General Spitzer said, "This settlement strikes an important balance between the state's duty under the state constitution to rigorously protect the unique natural beauty of the Forest Preserve with the need for meaningful access to recreational opportunities on these treasured lands for all New Yorkers. It is especially gratifying to have been able to bring

together environmental interests and advocates for persons with disabilities to fashion this far-sighted plan, which places New York in the forefront of addressing the needs of the disabled community in an environmentally responsible manner."

APA Chairman Lefebvre said, "We are pleased to help make the vast and fascinating Adirondack Park more accessible. We look forward to working with DEC to promote the opportunities of the Park, including the accessibility of its programs and facilities."

Neil F. Woodworth, counsel to the Adirondack Mountain Club, said, "The Adirondack Mountain Club applauds today's announcement of funding for facility improvements to Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve campgrounds, boat and canoe launches, picnic areas, wheelchair accessible trails, horse trails and fishing access sites to provide improved access and new recreational opportunities for persons with disabilities. We strongly support the state's major commitment today to provide new non-motorized outdoor recreational and educational programs to enable persons with disabilities to experience the beauty of the Forest Preserve."

The agreement includes a commitment that through the unit management planning process, which establishes management objectives and policies for State-owned lands, DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) will support the opening of 11 carefully selected roads in the Adirondack Forest Preserve for motor vehicle use by persons with qualifying disabilities. These roads, which total 19.54 miles, will remain closed to motor vehicle use by the general public. An additional 10 roads, totaling 47.74 miles, will remain open to motor vehicle use only by persons with disabilities. Overall, these 21 roads will provide access to activities such as fishing, hunting, canoeing, birdwatching, and sightseeing.

DEC also will expedite the development and amendment of unit management plans to ensure that access to programs by persons with disabilities is addressed. DEC and the APA will utilize independent consultants to train staff, licensed guides and vendors in the Forest Preserve on issues such as sensitivity awareness, needs of persons with disabilities, trail assessments and facility improvement needs.

Also under the agreement, DEC will designate 10 coordinators -- one in DEC's central office and one in each of the department's nine regional offices -- to ensure that department programs are accessible to persons with disabilities. DEC also will create an advisory committee to consider issues of relevance to persons with disabilities and appoint an advocate for persons with disabilities to the Forest Preserve Advisory Committee.

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