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Accessible trails and greenways
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On the trail of accessibility awareness

We're making it a personal challenge to find ways to make more accessibility training available.

By Stuart Macdonald and Christopher Douwes

Trails and greenways people are always looking for bright new ideas. And 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. Here are some suggestions:

"Most of us really don't have a clue about the obstacles that confront disabled visitors to our trails."

Most of us really don't have a clue about the obstacles that confront disabled visitors to our trails. One way to improve your accessibility awareness is to get acquainted with people who use wheelchairs. Spend some time with them around town, on a trail, and in a park. You'll learn very quickly about grades and sideslopes, how tough a two-inch high obstacle is, and how much effort it takes to cross a stretch of gravel.

Another way to raise your accessibility awareness is to learn about existing trails. One good system is the Universal Trail Assessment Process (UTAP). Developed by Beneficial Designs, this process involves simple tools to measure accurately the basics of trail accessibility: the slope (steepness), cross slope, width, height of obstacles, and surface stability. Several state parks agencies and federal agencies have trained staff in the process and use it to take a close look at their trails. American Trails is coordinating UTAP training around the country. Check the calendar at www.AmericanTrails.org or contact American Trails to arrange for your own state or agency training program.

A lot of mental energy went into developing proposed regulations for trails under the Americans with Disabilities Act. We don't know when they might take effect, or what they will finally require. But some smart folks already know a lot about how to design and maintain trails for better accessibility. We want to encourage them to share their experience and success stories with the rest of us. We're making it a personal challenge to find ways to make more accessibility training available.

One example is our work with American Trails, which is developing the National Trails Training Partnership (NTTP) with many other trail groups and agencies. One goal is identifying all the existing programs that teach trail planners and volunteers about trail surfacing, design, construction, and all the other elements that affect accessibility. We hope to make this instruction more available, and we are looking for more funding for new courses to raise accessibility awareness around the country.

Finally, we should remember that our urban trails, or shared use paths, should be fully accessible. The trails that link our communities make up an important part of the multi-modal transportation system. Because federal funds are so often involved in these greenway and bikeway projects, accessibility is clearly an important consideration. But it's not just the law, it's the smart thing to do.

Christopher Douwes of the Federal Highway Administration is Program Manager for the Recreational Trails Program.
Stuart Macdonald is Chair of the National Association of State Trail Administrators. For more on accessible trails training visit
www.AmericanTrails.org/NTTP

May 2001

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