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USFS continues work on Trail Accessibility Guidelines

By Janet Zeller, USDA Forest Service

Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines (FSTAG) will apply within National Forest System boundaries, maintain natural setting and experience of the trails ADA accessible regulations

From the Fall 2004 issue of Trail Tracks, the national newsletter of American Trails
For more background see Questions & answers on ADA trails accessibility
Read more on the USDA Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines project

The following proposed interim directives were published in the Federal Register inviting public comments until April 18, 2005. See Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines for details. See comparison of the proposed trail guidelines (FSTAG) with draft ADA guidelines (RegNeg) and Comments on proposed USFS Trail Accessibility Guidelines by American Hiking Society.

The U.S. Forest Service and the Access Board are continuing to work together on the development of accessibility guidelines that will apply to trails.

The Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines (FSTAG) will only apply within National Forest System boundaries, emphasize maintaining the natural setting and experience of the trails, and will only apply to trails that meet all of the following criteria.

1) The trail must either be new or have a change of purpose; 2) the trail must also be designated for "hiker/pedestrian" use; and 3) the trail must also either be connected directly to a trail head or to a currently accessible trail. If the trail does not meet all three of those criteria, then the FSTAG does not apply to that trail. The result is that the FSTAG will apply to new trails from parking lots to waterfalls or other scenic vistas, to interpretive trails and so forth, but will rarely apply to long distance trails.

The FSTAG is slowly moving through the directives clearance process in the Forest Service and then through USDA. When that process is complete, the FSTAG will be published in the Federal Register for a sixty-day comment period. In the meantime, the draft FSTAG and frequently asked questions and their answers are available at www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/accessibility.

The U.S. Access Board has determined it will develop accessibility guidelines for outdoor areas, including trails, but those guidelines will only apply to trails of Federal agencies, those trails operated under a permit from a Federal agency, and those trails receiving funding from a Federal agency. The Access Board will publish in the Federal Register, as a proposed rule, the 1999 final report of the Regulatory Negotiation Committee. The Access Board will use the Forest Service Outdoor Recreation Accessibility Guidelines and the FSTAG to develop the Board's final outdoor accessibility guidelines. That entire process is expected to take 3 to 5 years.

The Forest Service and the Access Board will be presenting a half-day joint workshop, "Accessibility and Trails", at the National Trails Symposium in Austin, TX on October 21st and a shorter version of the same session on the next morning - October 22nd. Those workshops will include the legal background, how the Forest Service guidelines work, and what's ahead through the Access Board's efforts. Practical examples will be shared by trails specialists showing how accessibility applies to trails and related facilities, while maintaining the natural setting. A panel will discuss the issues and discussion by all will be encouraged.

If you have questions about the coming trail guidelines or the accessibility and trails workshops at the National Trails Symposium, contact Janet Zeller at jzeller@fs.fed.us or by phone at 202-205-9597. The draft FSTAG and frequently asked questions and answers about it are available at www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/accessibility.

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