Friday, April 24, 2015

Benefits and Features of Accessible Hiking Trails

Spring is here and with warmer weather comes a new call to break out of the house and explore the outdoors for those with a sense of adventure!

If you are interested in accessible trails as a way to get out there on your own or with others who need trails designed to improve access, many such trails exist in Massachusetts - as well as around the U.S.- that are well worth visiting. A list of Massachusetts accessible trails can be found below.

"Trails are part of wellness," says Janet Zeller, Accessibility Manager for the U.S. Forest Service. Janet has quadriplegia and is an avid hiker and paddler. She is also a wonderful speaker on topics relating to outdoor access and presents across the country.  I was fortunate to hear her speak about accessible trail design last fall at a conference.

Among the benefits of trail use, according to Janet, are physical exercise, fresh air, contact with nature, relief from stress and electronic overload, and opportunities for family cohesion and shared ventures. I have noticed that in recent years more trail building organizations are seeking information on how to design accessibility into new trails. A great example of an accessible trail system can be found at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in New Hampshire, where two trails allow for exploration in a mountain environment. Janet was instrumental in advising and testing trails at Crotched Mountain.

The U.S. Forest Service has developed guidelines for constructing accessible trails over many years, with input from many people with disabilities. These guidelines apply to new trails on all federal properties and are considered best practices for trail builders on non-federal lands. "The best trails today," states Janet, "are sustainable, low maintenance, and designed to serve everyone". Seated in her power wheelchair, Janet is emphatic that trails do not have to be paved in the name of accessibility. Often stone dust is a common material used to create a well-packed trail with a more natural feel.

Some standard accessibility aspects for outdoor trails include:
    Firm, stable, slip resistant trail surface
    Clear width of 36"
    Grades that stay at 5% or less, with specific levels of slope increase for limited intervals above 5% (such as grades allowed up to 12% for 10 feet)
Cross slope no more than 5%

Resting intervals with seating every 200 feet if grade is between 5 and 8.33%, more frequently as the grade increases

Passing space of 60" every 1000' feet

Obstacles 2" high or less
Less 1/2' tolerance for board spacing on boardwalks

Often accessible trails feature good signage that describes trail surface, width, grade, distance, cross slope and obstacles - much like an ingredient label that allows the consumer to determine if the product is right for use.

Recommended accessible trails to visit in Massachusetts include:

Massachusetts State Parks (Department of Conservation and Recreation)
Parks below are in central and western Mass:

  • D.A.R. State Forest, Rte. 112, Goshen - 1/2 mile stonedust trail along a forested lake edge with fishing dock
  • Mt. Tom State Reservation, Rt. 5, Holyoke - Bray Lake Trail offers a 1/4 mile loop with fishing deck plus an extension to a bridge over a wetland.
  • Savoy Mountain State Park, 260 Central Shaft Road, Florida - 1/4 forested stonedust trail
  • Dunn Park, Rt. 101, Gardner - 3/4 mile  stonedust trail loops through forest
  • Mt. Greylock State Reservation, Lanesborough
  • Pittsfield State Forest, 1041 Cascade Street, Pittsfield - 3/4 mile paved Tranquility Trail through forest crosses brook

Massachusetts Audubon  - Mass Audubon accessible trails statewide include sensory elements, signage and guide ropes for navigation by blind users, and audio tours with tactile elements.

Arcadia Sanctuary, Easthampton
Attleboro Springs, Attleboro
Boston Nature Center, Mattapan
Broadmeadow Brook, Worcester
Broadmoor Sanctuary, Natick
Drumlin Farm, Lincoln
Pleasant Valley, Lee
Stony Brook Sanctuary, Norfolk
Trailside Museum, Milton
Wellfleet Sanctuary, Wellfleet

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Fort River Trail, 69 Moody Bridge Road, Hadley - 1 mile of stonedust and boardwalk trail with several overlooks of wetlands, woods and fields.

National Park Service

Buttonbush Trail - .3 mile trail features guide rope, Braille and large print signage and interactive features in a woodland setting that includes a boardwalk over pond near the Salt Marsh Visitor Center at Cape Cod National Seashore.

Doane Trail, Eastham, - .6 mile paved loop winds through emerging pine and oak forest with interpretive text on Cape Cod.

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