By Pam Gluck, American Trails, and Patti Longmuir of Beneficial Designs, Inc.
Over 15% of Americans have a disability. Of these, more than 15 million have limitations which affect their level of activity. The ability of these individuals to enjoy the benefits of outdoor trails has, in the past, been limited by a lack of information about trail conditions. The Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees that all public entities, including outdoor recreation areas and facilities, will include people with disabilities. However, defining what constitutes "accessibility" is unclear for outdoor, natural environments.
The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) for ramps require that the grade shall not exceed 1:12 (one inch rise for every 12 inches of run) or an 8.3% grade. The width must be at least four feet, the cross slope shall not exceed two percent, a level landing shall be located every 30 feet, a railing must be present, etc.
These regulations do not and were never intended to be applied to outdoor trails. It is not only impractical to build outdoor trails to such standards, but it is also undesirable. The Universal Trail Assessment Process (UTAP) was developed by Beneficial Designs, Inc. to provide standardized, objective information about trail conditions to all trail users, including people with disabilities, and land managers.
AMERICAN TRAILS was approached by Peter Axelson, Director of Research and Development for Beneficial Designs, Inc. and American Trails Board member, to assume responsibility for implementing the UTAP training and certification. Many of you have either attended the UTAP workshops, provided valuable input into the process, written support letters for Beneficial Designs' past research projects, or are familiar with this important work.
The American Trails Board is honored to take on this project which meets our mission of creating trail systems for ALL Americans. The vision is to provide standardized, objective information about the availability and condition of existing trails to ALL trail users, both with and without disabilities.
Implementation of the Universal Trail Assessment Process by AMERICAN TRAILS will enable the training workshops to be provided on a national basis, to a variety of trail users and management agencies, on a not-for-profit basis. A number of workshop scholarships will be offered. American Trails has resources and expertise to assist trail management agencies with the implementation of the UTAP. We will also be modifying the UTAP for non-hiking constituencies.
Project goals over the next 3 years include:
-- Hosting 15 training workshops around the country;
-- Developing a funding/volunteer database and resource document to assist agencies in conducting the assessments and in developing the signage, maps, etc. to provide the Trail Access Information (TAI);
-- Developing a Trail Assessment Coordinator certification process;
-- Modifying the UTAP process to benefit non-hiking constituencies; and
-- Creating 6 Trail Access Information demonstration sites.
American Trails, with volunteer assistance from Peter Axelson and Patti Longmuir of Beneficial Designs, Inc., has applied for a grant with the Department of Education to provide a large portion of the funding to carry out these goals. (Thank you, Peter and Patti! We also couldn't have done it without the assistance of Helen Johnson and Pat Reynolds. We appreciate all of you who provided us wonderful support letters to accompany our grant.)
If you are interested in becoming a Universal Trail Assessment Process Partner, please contact Pam Gluck at (520) 632-1140; E-mail: AmTrails@lankaster.com