FAQ: What are the guidelines for constructing an ADA compliant remote access trail path in National Forests?

On September 26th the U.S. Forest Service released the agency’s 2013 Accessibility Guidebook on Outdoor Recreation and Trails that updates the agency’s direction on providing recreational opportunities accessible to everyone.

by American Trails Staff

The Outdoor Recreation Accessibility Guidelines and the Trail Accessibility Guidelines publications address how the USFS provides accessible recreational opportunities as intended by the Architectural Barriers Act if 1968 and standards set by the U.S. Access Board.

Together, these publications provide guidance to maximize accessibility while protecting the unique characteristics of the natural setting of outdoor recreation areas and trails. The guidelines require all new or altered camping units, picnic areas, scenic overlooks, beaches, hiking trails and more to comply with this accessibility direction.

The release of the publications coincides with the new outdoor guidelines by the U.S. Access Board, an independent federal agency whose primary mission is accessibility for people with disabilities. The agency worked closely with the board on the development of the guidelines.

Identifying ways to improves access to parks, refuges and public lands is a component of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative. The largest majority of the people— about 56.7 million or 19 percent of the population— have a disability with more than half of them reporting the disability as severe, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau statistics. The USFS has more than 23,000 accessible recreation units, such as campsites and picnic areas, and 8,000 accessible recreation buildings.

“It is accessibility integrated into the outdoors without changing the setting or the outdoor experience,” said Janet Zeller, Forest Service National Accessibility Program Manager. “We don’t call them accessible trails, which make one think of flat and paved paths. Instead trails that comply with the accessibility guidelines look like other trails that blend into the setting, but with a sustainable firm, stable surface and, where the terrain allows, grades that provide easier passage.”

If you are not concerned with legal technicalities and simply want to build the most accessible trail under your physical constraints, the above guidebook will do. You can also contact the USFS accessibility coordinator for your region for additional suggestions.

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Published September 26, 2013

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