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USDA proposes Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines

In the absence of specific regulations to address the accessibility of campgrounds, picnic areas and trails, the USDA Forest Service is working on policies that would preserve the uniqueness of these areas while maximizing accessibility. The process is underway to establish Forest Service directives through the public comment process. After that process is completed, the resulting Forest Service guidelines will only apply within National Forest System boundaries.

See more information on the Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines

From the USDA Forest Service (see update on USFS Trail Accessibility Guidelines)

The U.S. Architecture & Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (U.S. Access Board),the Federal agency responsible for accessibility guidelines, decided to develop accessibility guidelines for outdoor developed areas through regulatory negotiation. The Forest Service was one of the 24 members of the Regulatory Negotiation Committee on Outdoor Recreation Developed Areas (Reg Neg Committee).

The Committee issued a report in September 1999 which proposed accessibility guidelines for outdoor recreation access routes, beach access routes, camping and picnicking areas, and pedestrian hiking trails. The Access Board anticipates publishing that report for public comment in 2004, with the goal of finalizing the guidelines in 2006, if there are no significant delays. Because the Forest Service believes they need to provide guidance for their agency before 2006, they are developing two internal policies both based on the Reg Neg Committee's report.

Draft Forest Service Outdoor Recreation Accessibility Guidelines (FSORAG)
Download the FSORG as MS Word document (863 kb) and Questions & Answers on the FSORAG (47 kb)
The FSORAG is based on the final report of the Reg Neg Committee, and follows the Forest Service policy of universal design to ensure the integration of all people, without separate or segregated access for people with disabilities. The FSORAG applies to campgrounds, picnic areas and related constructed features.

Draft Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines (FSTAG)
Download the FSTAG as MS Word document (624 kb) and Questions & Answers on the FSTAG (75 kb)
A separate document, the FSTAG, applies to new trails managed for hiker/pedestrian use. Both the FSORAG and the FSTAG are available on the World Wide Web at

The FSTAG recognizes and preserves the uniqueness of each trail, through the use of exceptions and deviations, when application of the accessibility standards would cause a change in the trail's setting or the purpose or function for which the trail was designed. The application of the FSTAG will ensure that the full range of trail opportunities continue to be provided from primitive long-distance trails to highly developed trails to popular scenic overlooks. All Forest Service Trail Classes will remain intact

The FSTAG applies to construction or alteration of trails if one of the trail's designated managed uses is hiker/pedestrian. Also, the FSTAG only applies to that new trail if it connects to an existing accessible trail or directly to a designated trailhead. Where new trails connect to an existing trail that is not accessible, FSTAG does not apply. Likewise, FSTAG does not apply where the new or altered portion of the trail does not connect to a designated trailhead. An alteration of a trail is a change in the original purpose, intent, or function for which the trail was designed.

Maintenance of trails with a managed use of hiker/pedestrian is not subject to the FSTAG. Maintenance is routine or periodic repair of existing trails or trail segments to restore them to the standards or conditions to which they were originally designed and built; it does not change the original purpose, intent or function for which the trail was designed.

The FSTAG has been designed to comply with the U. S. Access Board's Reg Neg report for their forthcoming proposed guidelines for outdoor developed areas by applying the guidelines to all trails managed for pedestrian use and applying only one level of accessibility to all areas while also using exceptions and conditions of departure from those guidelines.

The following are the four conditions for departure, from the Reg Neg report and the draft FSTAG, that permit deviations from specific technical provisions where an exception is noted:

1. Where compliance would cause substantial harm to cultural, historic, religious, or significant natural features or characteristics;

2. Where compliance would substantially alter the nature of the setting or the purpose of the facility, or portion of the facility;

3. Where compliance would require construction methods or materials that are prohibited by federal, state, or local regulations or statutes;

4. Where compliance would not be feasible due to terrain or the prevailing construction practices. There are also exceptions that prevent accessibility from being pointlessly piecemealed through a trail when access between segments isn't possible, and there are requirements to provide accessibility to special features where possible.

For more information visit Select "Accessible Trails" from the pull-down topics list. If you have questions or comments about the draft FSTAG please contact Janet Zeller, USDA Forest Service Accessibility Program Manager at or at 202-205-9597.

October 2003

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