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Negotiators address trails for Americans with Disabilities Act

The Committee's charge is to negotiate rules for trails, campgrounds, picnic areas, and beaches which will be made part of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines.

By Stuart Macdonald, Chair, National Association of State Trail Administrators

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires us to address the accessibility of trails in addition to buildings and programs. A Regulatory Negotiation Committee is developing new rules for trails and outdoor recreation facilities under ADA. The 25 members of the Committee represent federal and state agencies, advocates for the disabled, and trail groups, including American Trails, American Hiking Society, Appalachian Trail Conference, and the National Association of State Trail Administrators.

The Committee's charge is to negotiate rules for trails, campgrounds, picnic areas, and beaches which will be made part of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). Currently most federal agencies are guided by an earlier standard, the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS), when constructing or altering facilities. It is important to note that the proposed regulations will apply to newly constructed trails, not to retrofit existing trails. Still being debated is what constitutes an alteration that would trigger the requirement for full accessibility. The new regulations would apply to pedestrian routes, not to roads or motorized trails.

Draft guidelines that quantify accessibility are currently being discussed by the Committee. Various approaches have been considered, but the framework must include these two main parts:

1. Scoping Provisions: where, when, and under what circumstances a trail must be built to an accessible standard.

2. Technical Provisions: the dimensions, materials, and specifications that define what an accessible trail is in terms of trail grade, cross slope, height of obstacles, tread width, surface materials, etc.

But trails into natural surroundings clearly are different from access routes to buildings. Often the trail itself, with all its challenges, is the experience. Nor are trails always designed specifically for pedestrians, such as those built or adopted by mountain bicyclists or equestrians.

While roads would be excluded, hikers in many cases share motorized trails with ATVs and other vehicles. How should ADA address these shared-use trails? Then there is the problem of severe topography, rocky or sandy terrain, or other environmental concerns. What if building an accessible trail to those standards is infeasible or, illogical?

First, the Technical Provisions would allow for a reduced standard of accessibility (e.g. allowing for a steeper slope) under certain circumstances which are still being debated. Second, language would define broader exceptions, or circumstances in which planners could document the need to build a trail to a lower standard of accessibility.

The Regulatory Negotiation Committee on Access to Outdoor Developed Areas is under the supervision of the United States Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board,
1331 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004-1111.

ADA RULEMAKING COMMITTEE MEMBERS (present at the January 1999 meeting):

Access Board
American Camping Association
American Society of Landscape Architects
American Trails
Appalachian Trail Conference
Association for Blind Athletes
Hawaii Commission on Persons with Disabilities
KOA, Inc.
National Association of State Park Directors
National Association of State Trail Administrators
National Center on Accessibility
National Council on Independent Living
National Recreation and Park Association
National Spinal Cord Injury Association
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Paralyzed Veterans of America
Partners for Access to the Woods
State of Washington, Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service
U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service
U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration
Whole Access

February 12, 2001

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