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From the December 2005 Conservationist

Access for All

By Carole Fraser and Karin Verschoor

A fisherman enjoys universal access

A family drives to a DEC state forest to spend a day at an accessible picnic area by a lake. The moment the father parks the van, two small boys jump out and run to the lake. The mother unfolds a stroller for the baby, pleased that it will be easy for her to push the stroller on the hard surfaced paths without curbs. She also appreciates the universal design of the restrooms because it's so much easier to maneuver the stroller in and out. The father wheels his chair off the van lift, and calls the boys to come help carry a few things. He knows they can't wait to start fishing and he looks forward to joining them on the fishing platform once he gets the fire started. The boys are good for one load before they run off again, but they bring what they consider the essentials-the fishing rods and the barbecue gear. He lights the fireplace, which is at a comfortable height for him to reach, and ignores his sons' usual pleas to let them light it. The mother arranges the picnic table with a few pre-lunch snacks and the boys rush over, followed by their father, who is keeping an eye on the fire. There is plenty of room for his chair at the end of the picnic table, and the boys plop down on the benches on either side of him and start nagging about when they can go fishing.

This scenario is becoming real for more and more people, as a result recent improvements made to DEC facilities across the state. As technology has improved mobility for people with disabilities, the call of the wild has infected a segment of our population that traditionally has been locked out of outdoor recreation experiences. DEC is matching the demand with the application of universal design principles to outdoor areas and programs as well.

The combination of new technology and an increased awareness of the needs and capabilities of people with disabilities, has changed the whole concept of access to the outdoors. Hundreds of lightweight, high-tech, adaptive devices have been developed to help people with disabilities enjoy outdoor sports such as cycling, rock climbing, kayaking, sailing and skiing. Lightweight sport chairs and handcycles, built with mountain bike technology, have made it possible for adventurous wheelchair users to tackle formerly impossible trails.

There is a new structure in the parking lot for the horse trails at North-South Lake in the Catskill Forest Preserve. It looks somewhat like a small bridge with stone piers that support a wooden walkway, complete with wooden railings-but built on dry land and with a gap in the middle. This structure is an accessible equestrian mounting platform. It is one of more than 100 projects completed to improve access to boating, wildlife watching, hunting and fishing, picnicking, camping, and horseback riding on State Forests, Wildlife Management Areas and Forest Preserve lands. Campsites in developed campgrounds and in other areas are resurfaced to be firm and stable, and fire rings have a raised bed to aid in fire building. Privies associated with these sites are also wheelchair-accessible and are complete with grab bars.

Too many people have had the bad experience of visiting a place that was supposed to be accessible, but instead encountered barriers such as curbs between the parking lot and the entrance ramp. To avoid this, DEC staff worked toward getting input from a users' perspective, identifying potential barriers, and taking the stance that accessibility is considered an integral part of new projects, not an isolated special accommodation "feature."

DEC Environmental Educational Centers, such as Five Rivers, contain accessible features like nature trails, resting areas with raised seat benches, and accessible viewing platforms with low railings to improve the view a person gets from a seated position. Platforms and paths are built with a raised edge that is detectable by a cane. Trail guides are available in braille and inclusive programs are highlighted. The new nature trail at Nelson Swamp Unique Area provides an accessible self-guided tour over hard-surface paths and boardwalks with a series of illustrated signs at wheelchair height.

DEC invites you to explore our state lands and experience relaxation and renewal in simple outdoor adventures-and access for all has never been better.

Visit Santanoni

The Adirondacks have a tradition of healing that began in the 19th century, with the then radical idea that fresh air and nature were beneficial. A visit to Santanoni, an historic Great Camp in Newcomb, provides a sense of the beauty and serenity that drew people to the Adirondacks. No motor vehicles are allowed on the 5-mile long access road, but a horse-drawn wagon provides access for people with mobility impairments through a permit issued by the DEC. The porches of the log and stone buildings, designed with a subtle Japanese influence, are wheelchair accessible as are the outhouses at both ends of the road.

Site Maps Available

The locations of roads open by permit to people with certain mobility impairments to access recreational programs such as hunting and fishing are shown on maps available from DEC regional offices, and are now available online in the new State Land interactive mapping program on DEC's website: http://www.dec.ny.gov/cfmx/extapps/statelands/

Contact your local DEC office's Access Coordinator for more information about accessible outdoor facilities in your area. Phone numbers for each region are available online at http://www.dec.ny.gov/

Carole Fraser is the former assistant editor of Conservationist. She is currently DEC's universal access coordinator. Paleobotanist Karin Verschoor works in DEC's Division of Lands and Forests.

Photo: Carole Frasier