Thank you for the opportunity to comment on your proposed accessibility guidelines. I appreciate your work to make the outdoors more accessible for everyone. However, I do have a few concerns regarding the need to strike a balance between accessibility and negative impacts to the character of an outdoor recreation area or trail caused by modifications for accessibility.
I strongly believe that it is important that your regulations recognize that there are differences between city parks and forested areas or wilderness. Site modifications for easy access that are appropriate in urban outdoor areas may not be appropriate in more natural areas. The regulations should allow for somewhat greater challenge for people with disabilities in more natural areas and not expect that a campsite in the forest should be just as easy to get around in as a city park in order to preserve the natural landscape character and setting that people are seeking when they choose to go there.
In my opinion, some of your regulations will require excessive site modifications that could harm the natural character of the setting or the closing of backcountry trails, and therefore I request that you modify some standards in the proposed regulations to allow more flexibility for natural conditions as the Forest Service has done with its accessibility guidelines. The following are some of my specific concerns:
- Areas that are not developed recreation sites should not require Outdoor Recreation Access Routes (ORARs). In undeveloped settings where facilities/constructed features such as fire-rings or pit toilets are placed primarily because they are needed for resource protection, including adjacent to trails and in undeveloped areas, the trail specifications should apply to the route to the facilities rather than the ORAR specifications. This will allow the route to those facilities to better blend into the undeveloped setting. Facilities constructed or altered anywhere, including adjacent to trails or in undeveloped areas, must be both appropriate to the setting and accessible, in compliance with the Architectural Barriers Act requirement of facility access for all.
The final Access Board guidelines need to make a distinction between developed recreation areas and undeveloped areas where facilities are placed primarily for resource protection. The proposed Access Board guidelines only address the routes to facilities in developed recreation areas. Unless the distinction is made between developed and undeveloped areas, there will be a negative impact on the natural setting in undeveloped areas.
- An exception for ORAR grade and slope is needed for recreation areas are being altered or reconstructed. The ORAR technical specifications for the pathways that connect facilities, work well in most newly constructed campgrounds and picnic areas, where a good location can be selected for the recreation area. However, in older developed recreation areas, it may not be possible for the entire length of the ORAR to meet the grade requirements, without a significant change to the natural environment due to the terrain of the site where a campground or picnic area was originally constructed. This should be treated as a condition of departure with an exception allowed to the grade/slope specifications in that section of that ORAR, thereby maintaining the natural setting.
Unfortunately, the proposed Access Board guidelines do not permit any exceptions to the ORAR technical specifications, regardless of the terrain, historic, cultural or environmental factors, even in alteration/reconstruction situations. This will have a negative impact on incorporating accessibility while trying to protect the natural environment at existing recreation areas.
- The final guidelines need to clarify that the definition of alteration does not apply to trails.
- The definitions for alteration and for maintenance of trails in the original Regulatory Negotiation Committee’s 1999 Report (page 6) needs to be included in the definitions section of the final Access Board guidelines for greater clarity.
- An exception is needed for protruding objects below 80 inches in height when they occur on a trail where placing a warning barrier would block passage down the trail.
- The final guidelines should not use the ISA but, instead, should require information be to be posted that is useful to all trail users in determining which trail best meets their skills and available resources, including maximum grade, cross slope, minimum width and so forth. The proposed Access Board guidelines include the International Symbol of Accessibility in each of the sample trail signs. The use of this symbol in relation to trails will lead the public to expect an ease of access that will not be there even when a trail complies fully with the guidelines because grades up to 12.5% are appropriately allowable under the guidelines.
- The 2nd General Exception has been rewritten, and it no longer states what the Regulatory Negotiation Committee Report intended. As written it is confusing and incorrect in that it implies that only 15% of the length of a trail ever needs to be accessible. The final Access Board guidelines need to go back to the original Regulatory Negotiation Committee’s language for the 2nd General Exception.
- In order for the final Access Board guidelines to be useable by federal agencies, the final Access Board guidelines need to integrate the ITDS standardized trail terminology, definitions and trail management concepts of Trail Classes, Designed Uses, Managed Uses and Designated Use, including the Conditions of Departure. The Interagency Trail Data Standards (ITDS) have been adopted by the FS, BLM, NPS, FWS and BOR. The ITDS website is http://www.nps.gov/gis/trails.
Thank you for considering and hopefully making these changes.