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New York state agencies hold virtual seminar on accessible and sustainable trails

Adirondack trailhead
Pat Bradley
Adirondack trailhead

New York state agencies are working to integrate accessible trail inclusive access while maintaining the sustainability and natural environment of state lands.

The Department of Environmental Conservation, in conjunction with the Adirondack Park Agency and the Office of State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, recently held a forum on how to integrate environmental sustainability with accessibility.

Sustainable trail design is a growing method of building and rebuilding trail networks. Retired U.S. Forest Service National Accessibility Program Manager Janet Zeller was the keynote speaker. She said the design focuses on maximizing accessibility while protecting the unique natural setting.

“The emphasis on trails being built these days is on sustainability, low maintenance and that they serve all people to the extent reasonable. Sustainable trail design is the design of trails ensuring that they are located appropriately within the environment so that the natural resource and the character of the setting will be maintained.”

Zeller cited 2010 Census numbers showing 57-million people have a disability — a large group that is ready to support integrated trail accessibility. She also noted an aging population with limited mobility is also driving integrated access to trail systems.

Zeller noted that a primary advantage of sustainable trail design is its accessibility.

“The standards maximize accessibility while maintaining the character of the setting of the trail. Grades and cross slopes are also key in the standards. Dealing with drainage without using structures makes it easier on the trail overall and a firm and stable surface with the appropriate tread width means clear passage for all hikers. So well designed sustainable trails are more accessible trails. Sustainable design and accessibility go together.”

State Department of Environmental Conservation Statewide ADA Accessibility Coordinator Lia Akins outlined some of the accessible locations, trails and programs available in the Adirondacks and Catskills.

“The DEC Accessibility Program, we have ADA coordinators in each of our nine DEC regions throughout the state. We also facilitate a public advisory committee. What we do is provide advice, also go and do field visits and talk with the facility managers and designers.”

Taconic Resources for Independence Executive Director Lisa Terricone is a member of the DEC’s Accessibility Advisory Committee.

“Our advisory committee is comprised primarily of people with disabilities and this allows us to provide our personal experiential perspectives when making inclusive design recommendations for DEC recreational sites. The DEC has targeted inclusive design as one of its primary objectives in the revamping of existing outdoor sites and construction of new ones. And this really provides individuals with disabilities, with all kinds of disabilities, the ability to connect with nature in deeply wooded settings, which is something we don’t often get to do on rail trails or bike trails, conventional bike trails.”