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USFS continues work on trail Accessibility Guidelines

Proposed guidelines would require new trails on national forests to conform to accessibility standards (September 23, 2005).

By Janet Zeller, USDA Forest Service

At the direction of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in February, 2005, the Forest Service published, in the Federal Register for 60 days of comment, proposed interim directives that linked to the Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines (FSTAG). The comments received were overall supportive of the specifics in the FSTAG and included a number of excellent recommendations for refining the FSTAG which have been incorporated into those guidelines. The current version of the FSTAG is available at

Those changes to the FSTAG due to the comments received include the use of designed-use rather than managed-use as the designator of the trail as hiker-pedestrian. Under the Interagency Trail Data Standards (ITDS) a trail may have multiple managed-uses such as hiker-pedestrian and equestrian, however there is only one designed-use that controls the geometric design of the trail, and determines the subsequent maintenance parameters for the trail. Because the FSTAG pertains to the design of new trails "designed-use" is the more appropriate ITDS parameter. Also the definition of a trailhead has been refined, the ITDS trail classes and terminology added to the appendix and a number of smaller editorial corrections have been completed.

The FSTAG apply only to trails that meet all three of the following criteria:

1) the trail is new or altered. An alteration to a trail is a change in the original purpose, intent, or function for which the trail was designed.

2) and the trail has a designed-use (in accordance with the Forest Service trails terminology , design and management processes) for hiker/pedestrian use;

3) and the trail connects either directly to a trailhead or to a currently accessible trail.

A trailhead is a site designed by the agency, trail association or other cooperators to provide staging for trail use. For purposes of the FSTAG the following do not constitute a trailhead: Junctions between trails where there is no other access, and intersections where a trail crosses a road, or users have developed an access point, but no improvements are provided by the Forest Service, trail associations, or other cooperators beyond minimal markers for health and safety.

The Forest Service and the Access Board are continuing to coordinate on the development of accessibility guidelines that apply to trails. The Access Board would also need to publish, for 60 days of comment in the Federal Register, their 1999 draft outdoor developed area accessibility guidelines, developed by the Regulatory Negotiation Committee, as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. However, there is no clear indication wheh this may happen. The Forest Service and the other Federal land management agencies will then work with the Access Board as it develops final accessibility guidelines for outdoor developed areas that will apply to the Federal agencies.

Under the agreement with OMB, the FSTAG will be final at the same time the Access Board goes final with their guidelines, in the same Federal Register. The final FSTAG will contain the Access Board's final accessibility guidelines for trails managed by Federal agencies, as supplemented by the Forest Service to ensure the agency's continued application of universal design, as well as agency terminology and processes in a user-friendly format for field use within the National Forest System boundaries.

Feeling confused? The Forest Service will provide training where given the opportunity on a trails meeting agenda. Also the FHWA has funded development by the Forest Service of a truly user-friendly Accessibility Guidebook on Outdoor Recreation and Trails that will be available on-line followed by hard copy desk and field guides after the Forest Service and the Access Board finalize their guidelines.

If you have questions about the coming trail guidelines, want to arrange training or have other questions about accessibility and trails, contact Janet Zeller, Forest Service National Accessibility Program Manager, at or by phone at 202-205-9597.

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