October 11, 2007
Attn: U.S. Access Board
Thank you for your work on the proposed Outdoor Developed Areas accessibility guidelines, and for our opportunity to comment on the proposed guidelines. You have the distinct privilege of providing for access by Americans with disabilities to the natural, cultural, recreational and scenic highlights of our country. As one of only eight national scenic trails designated by Congress, the North Country National Scenic Trail (NST), is a special footpath for exploring the beauty of America’s northern landscapes.
The North Country Trail Association is the national non-profit partner of the National Park Service, whose mission is to develop, maintain, preserve, and promote the North Country NST through a national network of volunteers, chapters, partner organizations, and government agencies.
The North Country NST will someday stretch 4600 miles from New York to North Dakota. There are currently 2100 miles of existing trail on the ground. Our trail combines both rugged backcountry trail, as well as urban built trail, canal ways, towpaths, and sidewalks. The desired future condition is, however to be a premier off-road footpath for as much of the way as possible. Within the guidelines offered by Congress in our enabling legislation and direction from the National Park Service through our cooperative agreement, the NCTA seeks to enable access to the NCT as appropriate by Americans of all abilities.
Please find our comments attached. If you have any follow-up questions for the Association please do not hesitate to contact us. Again, thank you for your Committee’s solid work on these proposed guidelines. If not for your leadership on these issues, particularly as they pertain to trails, there would be unclear direction on how we implement appropriate accessibility to our diverse user population.
Bruce E. Matthews
The North Country Trail Association believes the following changes must be made to the Access Board’s proposed Outdoor Developed Areas accessibility guidelines so that the guidelines are more clearly aligned with the U.S. Forest Service’s Outdoor Recreation Accessibility Guidelines (FSORAG), the Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines (FSTAG), and to be more relevant, applicable and interpretable to trails on the ground.
The following are Association’s recommended changes pertinent to the Access Board’s proposed Outdoor Developed Areas accessibility guidelines:
The Association would like to see more detail in how these guidelines address the unique aspects of footpaths. In these guidelines there are only three “trail” definitions. This leaves too much room for interpretation. In contrast, the Forest Service’s Trail Accessibility Guidelines (FSTAG) has 32 “trail” definitions. Because National Scenic Trails often use a variety of trail surfaces and incorporate varied types of trails into our system, we need to make sure that these guidelines reflect that variety with a comprehensive list of “trail” definitions that can not be misinterpreted.
The Association believes that the Access Board’s “trail” definitions must be in concert with those of FSTAG.
In the current proposed guidelines, the definition of “alteration” applies to buildings appropriately, but this definition is not appropriate for trails. The proposed guidelines need specific clarification to this point.
The Association believes that the Access Board’s definition of “alteration” must apply only to buildings and must not be applied to trails.
The definitions for “alteration” and “maintenance” are insufficient as they currently stand in these proposed guidelines. These definitions need to be clarified and made specifically applicable to trails.
The Association believes that definitions for “alteration” and “maintenance” of trails from the original Regulatory Negotiation Committee’s 1999 Report, which appears in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), must be included as definitions in the final Access Board guidelines as follows:
A trail alteration is well defined through a negative inference in the NPRM under Alterations and Maintenance (page 6 in the second paragraph): “This type of work is not an alteration; it does not change the original purpose, intent, or design of the trail”. Therefore the definition of a trail alteration would be:Trail Alteration: An action that changes the original purpose, intent, or design of the trail.Trail maintenance is also well defined in the NPRM in the same paragraph: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.
Currently in the proposed Access Board guidelines there is no exception for protruding objects below 80 inches in height that occur on the trail. Terrain on trails often dictates where a barrier can be placed. The guidelines need to reflect that there are exceptions to when a barrier can be installed.
The Association believes there must be exception language in the final Access Board guidelines for protruding objects on trails that are below 80 inches in height where the placement of a warning barrier will be an obstruction on the trail.
The use of the ISA in relation to trails is not always appropriate. Because trail grades up to 12.5 percent are allowable under the guidelines, the ISA may lead trail users to expect an ease of access that may not exist.
The Association believes there must be trailhead information posted, that is useful to all trail users, and that gives a clear explanation of the gradient associated with trail. We do not think the ISA should be universally applied because the public’s expectation when they see that symbol is that there will be relatively level and wide pathways which are beyond the requirements of the guidelines for trails.
The proposed Access Board guidelines have a confusing re-write of the Second General Exception. We believe it no longer states what the Regulatory Negotiation Committee’s 1999 report fully intended.
The Association believes that the final Access Board guidelines must reflect the original language as related to the Second General Exception in the Regulatory Negotiation Committee’s 1999 Final Report.
The Association works in concert with the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, and the US Fish & Wildlife Service among other federal agencies to manage the North Country National Scenic Trail. The only way to fully communicate with differing federal agencies on the status of the trail is to use standardized terminology, definitions, and standardized management concepts like Trail Classes, Designed Uses and Managed Uses. The Interagency Trail Data Standards (ITDS) provides a framework for interagency communication and crosswalk when talking about trails.
The Association believes the final Access Board guidelines must integrate ITDS terminology, definitions, and trail management concepts, including within the Conditions of Departure, in order for these guidelines to be useable within the federal agencies trail structure.
ORARs often exist in backcountry settings along the trail. They offer access to amenities from shelters to privies, fire rings to tent pads. Because these backcountry facilities are normally in an undeveloped area, it is not appropriate to apply the language of ORARs, which pertains to developed areas. Facilities constructed or altered along or adjacent to the trail must be appropriate to the setting as well as accessible.
The Association believes the final Access Board guidelines must stipulate that ORARs not be required in areas that are not developed recreation sites.
Along the North Country National Scenic Trail there are many different types of facilities in undeveloped recreation areas. We believe it is not reasonable to expect every “undeveloped” recreation area to have ORARs connecting them. The proposed Access Board guidelines need to make a distinction between “developed” recreation areas and “undeveloped” recreation areas where facilities are placed to ensure resource protection.
The Association believes the final Access Board guidelines need to clearly define and distinguish between “developed” recreation areas and “undeveloped” recreation areas.
Currently the proposed Access Board guidelines do not allow for any exceptions to the ORARs. The technical specifications for ORARs work very well in areas where newly constructed facilities are being installed. However, in areas where alterations need to be made to existing facilities, the grade and slope accommodations that the ORARs recommend cannot be met due to terrain.
The Association believes the final Access Board guidelines need to include an exception to the ORARs in alterations of existing sites where terrain features make compliance impractical.