InsideMS, Winter 2002, Vol. 20, Issue 1
by Tamar Asedo Sherman
Nature enthusiast Karen G. Stone thought her days of exploring mountain trails were over once she started using a motorized wheelchair. But much to her delight, her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, opened an accessible trail at Elena Gallegos Park in the Sandia Mountains.
“I am in heaven right here at 7,600 feet,” she said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony last summer. Stone, a nature photographer who has MS, described the “immense calmness” that nature gives her, regardless of season or time of day. “This steadiness,” she said, “has served as a much-needed keel around which to anchor my life.”
Albuquerque is not unique in designing an accessible nature trail. National, state, and local parks throughout the U.S. have been doing so for the past 10 years, as public consciousness rises about people with disabilities.
Accessible trails grant access not only for people who use a wheelchair or scooter. People with fatigue and weakness will also find accessible trails more “user-friendly” than trails with steep grades and rough walking surfaces.
But trail surfaces can be controversial. Asphalt and concrete are the most desirable surfaces for people using wheelchairs and scooters, but paved trails are not environmentally friendly. They are costly to construct and maintain. Alternative surfaces on accessible trails may include wood shavings, crushed shell or gravel, pine needles, crushed limestone or granite.
Your passport to the great outdoors
The most famous national parks—including the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, and Yosemite—all have accessible trails. So do many other national preserves, recreation areas, lake shores, scenic trails, and forests. Check www.nps.gov for details.
A lifetime “Golden Access Passport,” available to people who are permanently disabled and their families, provides free admission to all federally operated parks, monuments, historic sites, recreation areas, and national wildlife refuges. The Passport also gives a 50% discount on most federal use fees charged for special facilities and services, such as camping, boat launching, and parking. You must apply in person at any federal recreation area. Bring some proof of eligibility, such as a Social Security notice of coverage, a veterans card, or a letter from a federal agency.
Your own backyard …
Nearly all state parks have some accessible trails. Call your state park and recreation service or enter your state’s name and the words “wheelchair accessible trail” into any search engine to find those nearest you.
Here is just a sampling from around the country:
El’s Trail, part of the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference, recently opened a 0.75-mile accessible trail through the Pine Barrens of Long Island, New York. Crushed concrete covers the three-foot-wide trail through dense pine forest, making it firm enough for wheelchair tires not to sink into, yet natural in appearance, like a dirt floor.
The Lake Mineral Wells State Trailway in Texas is an accessible 20-mile trail that connects the cities of Mineral Wells and Weatherford with the park along an abandoned rail line. Except for a two-mile stretch paved with asphalt, 18 miles are covered with crushed limestone. All four trailheads have accessible restrooms.
Campsites are also ADA compliant, according to park ranger Edward Dollins, with accessible dining hall and showers. “Tell us you require an ADA site and we’ll hold one for you,” he said.
Texas, in fact, is very progressive in its efforts to make trails accessible. For a complete list, check http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/admin/wheelch.htm.
Burritt on the Mountain in Monte Sano, Alabama, was one of the first accessible nature trails in the United States. It has won numerous awards and is used as a model for other trails. The “mountain of health” is Alabama’s first natural wonder, according to director James Powers.
There are 12 stops along the 0.5-mile asphalt-paved trail. Signs include braille. At the top of the mountain sits the 19th-century Burritt Mansion, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It was retrofitted with wheelchair ramps.
The Oregon Redwood Trail in Brookings is one of the most spectacular natural sites anywhere, according to permits officer Nadine Stace, who has traveled extensively. Ten miles north of the California border, above the Pacific Ocean, 0.8 mile of the Siskiyou National Forest is accessible. The crushed aggregate surface leads through a grove of majestic redwood trees, the only coastal redwoods found in the Pacific Northwest.
Crushed, compacted granite is the surface of choice in the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District in California. Check http://www.openspace.org/ for detailed information.
Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources offers a list of the more accessible facilities in its large park system. Among them is Hocking Hills State Park in Logan, with wheelchair-accessible nature trails to Ash Cave and along the rim overlooking Old Man’s Cave. Visitors see towering sandstone cliffs, yawning sandstone caves, waterfalls, and cascading streams in deep gorges. Outdoor swimming pools are also wheelchair-accessible. Check www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks/facilitiesmaps/access.htm for details on wheelchair-accessible cottages and campsites.
And in Indiana there is a Handicapped Travel Club (http://www.handicappedtravelclub.com/) with 260 members who share information on campsites and adaptive equipment for recreational vehicles. Contact Merle Young, 12555 Lantern Road, Fishers, IN 46038. Tel: 317-849-8019.
Follow these health and safety tips:
For additional information
Parks and Trails
Tamar Asedo Sherman is a working reporter who lives with MS. Her “Cup
of Ambition” appeared in “A Place in the Work Force” in our Fall 2001 issue.
© 2002 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society