As a Landscape Architect with the US Forest Service (FS) with over 20 years of experience in designing campgrounds, picnic areas, trailheads and trails, I have been responsible for incorporating accessibility into the outdoor recreation environment on projects I have managed. I was co-author of the FS publication, Universal Access to Outdoor Recreation: A Design Guide, as well as the FS Outdoor Recreation and Trail Accessibility Guidelines, and the companion document, Accessibility Guidebook for Outdoor Recreation and Trails. In addition, I represented the Forest Service on the Access Board’s Regulatory Negotiation Committee (RegNeg) on Outdoor Developed Areas from 1997 to 1999. I have reviewed the proposed guidelines with interest, congratulate you for the hard work and effort that went into publishing these guidelines in the Federal Register, and offer the following comments.
Question 1: No additional approaches need be examined. The RegNeg committee thoroughly considered all possible approaches to addressing trail accessibility and reached consensus — with a very high comfort level — on the approach presented. The approach presented in the proposed guidelines is most reasonable and practicable; a reexamination of approaches that were studied and rejected by the committee is not necessary.
Question 2: No, adding the term “practicable” to Condition 4 is not necessary. The terms “feasible” and “practicable” are interchangeable. An advisory note would be helpful to explain that “feasible” means what is both reasonably do-able and practicable and that there may be situations where full compliance with the guidelines would not be practicable given the degree of site modification and expenditure of resources that would be necessary to meet the provisions. The question to ask is not, “Can it be done?” but “Should it be done?” in order to determine if the efforts required for compliance are well spent in a particular area or if those efforts would be better spent and result in a more accessible and enjoyable experiences elsewhere.
Questions 3 and 25: Hikers with and without disabilities need to know what conditions would be encountered along a trail so they can decide if they want to use that particular trail. To enable them to make that decision, objective information about the trail should be required at all newly constructed or altered trails or trails segments, trails that have been evaluated for accessibility, and trailheads serving those newly constructed/altered/evaluated trails trail segments that fall into Trail Class 4 and 5 as defined by the Interagency Trails Data Standards (ITDS). This information should be optional on trails that fall into Trail Classes 1, 2 and 3. Information should include: trail name and number; typical and maximum trail slope; typical and maximum cross slope; typical and minimum tread width, surface type and firmness; obstacles. Under no circumstances would the International Symbol of Accessibility be an appropriate sign for hiking trails because it would not convey the necessary information to the potential hiker about the conditions of the trail.
Question 5: A minimum width of 36 inches and passing spaces of 60 inches by 60 inches every 200 feet is sufficient for beach access routes.
Question 7: The 15-inch minimum height for a cooking surface should not be changed. Often the cooking surface is provided on a fire ring. The minimum height of the fire building surface is 9 inches. If the height of the cooking surface were required to be more than 15 inches above the ground, the cooking surface would then be more than 6 inches above the fire in the fire ring and which would not put the food close enough to the fire to cook properly.
Question 8: The advisory note adequately explains what an “area” is. No further definition is needed.
Question 9: The advisory note for T303.3 Surface is far too complicated and detailed to be applicable or useable in most situations. Further, the rotational penetrometer is a fairly expensive piece of equipment. A simpler, more straightforward way of determining surface firmness and stability needs to be provided. The note should not introduce the concept of “moderately” firm or stable because that could lead to misunderstanding and misapplication of when a surface less than firm and stable would be appropriate. In many outdoor settings a surface that is built to be firm and stable will likely tend towards becoming less than firm and stable over time (depending on maintenance cycles), so to build in an option for a moderately firm and moderately stable surface may result in an unnecessary reduction in accessibility. The following should be included in T104 Definitions:
Further, the concept of moderately firm and moderately stable was not fully discussed by the RegNeg committee. The committee’s Final Report (1999) addressed this in very general terms as reflected in Advisory T304.2. However, Advisories T306.4, T311.2, T312.2 were not included in the RegNeg Final Report; they are an extrapolation of Advisory T304.2 and added into the proposed guidelines by the Access Board staff, and do not reflect the debate and deliberations of the RegNeg committee members.
Question 10: These guidelines will apply to Federal agencies that are also under the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA). The ABA requires all facilities designed, built, altered, leased, or purchased by federal money to be accessible. This requirement also extends to federal agency partners and permit holders who construct facilities on federal lands. To be in compliance with the ABA, 100% of the elements (tables, grills, fire rings, benches, etc.) provided in outdoor developed areas should be required to meet the technical provisions. Where only one element is provided in an area, it should be connected by an Outdoor Recreation Access Route (ORAR) that meets the technical provisions. However, where multiple elements are provided in an area, a minimum of 20% of the elements should be required to be connected by an ORAR. This would result in the same number of elements being connected by an ORAR as the proposed guidelines, but would increase the number of accessible elements and better serve the public.
Question 11: No, the low reach for the fire building surface on fire rings should not be changed from 9 inches to 15 inches. To do so would alter the camping experience of which sitting near and viewing the campfire is a big part. A fire ring with a fire building surface 9 inches minimum above the ground must have walls that extend an additional 9 inches to contain the burning firewood, for a total minimum height of 18 inches. If the minimum height of the fire building surface were raised to 15 inches, the height of the walls enclosing the fire would reach 24 inches. At that point, the fire would no longer be easily viewed and enjoyed from the seated position and the camping experience would be negatively impacted.
Question 12: Alteration and maintenance should be defined as discussed in the RegNeg draft guidelines and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The following definitions should be used in T104 in place of what is provided in the proposed guidelines:
Alteration of a recreation site, building, or facility: A change to a recreation site, building, or element or portion thereof that affects or could affect the usability of the recreation site, building, or element or portion thereof and that is addressed by the accessibility guidelines.
Trail Alteration: An action that changes the original purpose, intent, or design of the trail.
Trail maintenance: Maintenance is routine or periodic repair of trails or trail segments to restore them to the standards to which they were originally designed and built.
Question 13: No, the guidelines were developed to accommodate tolerances and are adequately written.
Question 14: Yes, facilities that are located on trails should comply with the technical provisions, regardless of whether or not the trails are accessible, for the same reasons as discussed under Question 10. These guidelines will apply to federal agencies that are subject to the ABA. Thus, all facilities built with federal funds must be accessible. Access to the facilities is addressed under Question 21.
Question 19: Yes, an open drainage structure is the only area where cross slopes of 10% should be permitted.
Questions 20 and 21: Exceptions to the slope provision for Outdoor Recreation Access Routes must be permitted in the final guidelines based on the conditions of T302. Basing the exception on section T302 is a better option than allowing the ORAR to exceed a slope of 1:12 for up to 10% or 15% of the total length of the ORAR. While the elements themselves are able to comply with the provisions regardless of where they are located, the terrain is a different matter. In new construction, agencies typically select areas that are naturally accessible as part of the site selection criteria and ORAR provisions generally work well in these situations. In older developed recreation sites, however, it may not be feasible to modify the existing terrain to the extent necessary to meet the ORAR slope provisions due to steep slopes and other factors. Compliance with the accessibility guidelines would require extensively altering the nature of the setting or creating substantial cuts and fills that would not be sustainable over time. Because of declining budgets, environmental restrictions, and increasing deferred maintenance backlog, most federal agencies focus on altering existing developed recreation sites rather than building new ones. An exception to the slope provisions for ORARs is critical for meeting the principles of the guidelines — maximizing accessibility while protecting the natural environment.
Question 24: Currently there are no operating mechanisms that meet the accessibility requirements for operating controls for wood stoves and fire places due to the weight of the material used and the need to withstand vandalism. This also applies to bear-resistant trash receptacles and dumpsters. An exception is needed for T407 until controls and mechanisms that comply with the provision, withstand vandalism and meet animal control requirements are commercially available.
Question 26: Yes, an exception is needed for T322 Protruding Objects where it is not feasible to provide the 80-inch overhead clearance or install a warning barrier due to a condition of T302. This exception would allow a trail to pass under ledges or through caves without changing the nature of the setting or obstructing access along the trail. An example of where this would be important is where the walk along the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC, passes through the historic cherry trees. Branches of some of those trees extend towards the ground and do not allow an 80-inch overhead clearance. Removing the branches is not an option because of the historic significance of the trees. It would not be feasible to install a wherever the overhead clearance is less than 80 inches along the walk because this would obstruct the path of circulation for all pedestrians, and unacceptably alter the experience of the walk.
Additional comments: T303.2 General Exception attempts to combine the RegNeg committee’s General Exceptions 1 and 2. This combination changes the original intent of the two general exceptions and the meaning of General Exception 2, in particular, is lost. The two general exceptions in the RegNeg’s report address two specific and distinct situations. The final guidelines must retain the two general exceptions as developed by the RegNeg committee and as written in the RegNeg report.
T318.3.4 Edge Protection. Requiring a 3” edge protection around tent pads and platforms may actually obstruct access to the pad or present a tripping hazard. This provision should be revised to read: “Where required for safety, curbs, walls, railing, or projecting surfaces…shall be provided. Curbs shall be 3 inches high minimum.”
Thank you for your consideration of these comments. I look forward to the final guidelines.