I love accessible trails!
I think when many people think of an accessible trail, we think of handicap or wheelchair accessible trail, paved trail, flat trail, short trail, less scenic trail, easy trail, boring trail. Accessible is not just for those in wheelchairs. When you hear or read accessible, think of inclusive. An inclusive trail brings in mind the whole community perspective. Inclusive trails provide a space of outdoor recreation for all abilities and ages to enjoy and flourish.
When I think of accessible trails today, I think about the children either in strollers or those who are walking who cannot walk too far. I think about those with injuries who do not want to give up movement while recovering. I think about the elderly with canes or walkers or two able feet who need somewhere safe to walk close to home. I think about those with invisible illnesses who can hide their disabilities but greatly need places to rest when being active.
Accessible trails can refer to not only physical abilities but also accessibility for emergency vehicles to go into the depths of parks and wild places to rescue those who fall ill or injured when outside. In 11th grade, I adopted a section of the Cape Henry Trail at First Landing State Park in VB,VA. This trail runs 6 miles long connecting the main trail center to the second entrance at the ocean front. It is the perfect trail to be able to reach all inner parts of the state park. Thus, this trail runs wider than most. The corridor dimensions tend to be 6-8 feet wide at all times and at least 10-12 feet tall providing access for ambulances and off road vehicles to drive down the trail in case of an emergency.
I loved helping to maintain this trail once a month. Much of my volunteering centered around picking up trash and using loppers to trim tree limbs that were falling too close to the trail. It was easy work and it fulfilled me so much to know the access I was providing to all people.
In 2018 I joined American Conservation Experience as a conservation corps member in southern California. One of the projects I worked on was creating an accessible trail system at a state park in San Diego. Unlike the above trail, this trail has paved and level tread and ran a little skinnier. We lined the trails with wood and filled in the central part of the trail with DG (decomposing granite). Granite is a good material to use because when wet, it can rot the feldspar minerals and turn them mud-like and cement the material together. We spent hours a day shoveling granite bits into wheelbarrows to be transported to different sections of the trail. We made sure to level the beams of wood prior to filling and began dumping granite to fill the trail. To compact the granite, we used fiber plate tampers.
This trail was a certified ADA Accessible trail so we had stricter guidelines to follow. Not only did the trail have to be level, it could never exceed an incline of 10% for more than a few feet.
Many park visitors that saw our service thanked us for helping be inclusive of the community. However, we did have a handful of visitors scold us for ruining the only natural beauty left in the city. That by paving a trail, we are taking away nature from people. That people in wheelchairs have sidewalks and do not need to take away natural areas from others. This made me cry the first time I heard these harsh words.
I understand the glorious feeling of dirt paths beneath my feet and feeling grounded with our mama Earth. When I broke my leg the summer of 2019, I had to use a wheelchair to get around places. I felt robbed of community and activity and freedom. Thankfully the corridor trail that runs through Ashland, WI is paved and passed next to my house. Each night, Morgan would get home from work and take me on a walk. It gave us the opportunity to see the trees and Lake Superior and remind me that I am still part of this Earth and this community. I am so thankful for that trail.
Currently I am serving with Americorps and Maine Conservation Corps at Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park as an Environmental Steward. One of my current projects is raking the accessible White Pines Trail and preparing it for spring and summer use! This project fulfills me so greatly. The White Pines Trail is not paved, it is dirt and flat and maintains a width of a minimum of 4 feet but preferably 6 feet. Part of the maintenance we conduct on this trail is removing branches and debris after winter and summer storms, removing rocks from trail center, filling in holes, keeping the trail mainly level and covering roots that enter the trail. It is honestly one of the most beautiful trails in the park because it passes the salt marshes, the picnic area, and finishes at the Osprey Nesting viewing area. This trail also features many interpretive panels and is typically the trail used to host interpretive programs.
I mentioned at the beginning that accessible trails provide rest for those with invisible illnesses. I think of this a lot because as a type 1 diabetic it can be difficult for me to hike for long periods of time without my blood sugar dropping. Almost every hike I have to sit, eat a snack and wait for my blood sugar to correct itself. Accessible trails typically feature multiple benches that allow people to rest. I love these benches. I have had many recoveries on these benches from low blood sugars. I also love these benches because they remind us to be contemplative, to ponder what is in front of us, to enjoy the sounds of nature. And they promote the idea that it is ok to rest. We all need to rest. We do not have to hike the most miles to be successful or feel fulfilled.
With this pandemic, I am noticing people using accessible trails more and more. They provide enough distance to maintain “physical or social distancing” of 6 feet when recreating. They also tend to be found in city centrals and areas close to home so we do not have to drive and we can obey the stay at home order.
Maybe that trail you always consider a bike path or paved trail or wide sidewalk is actually an accessible trail or an inclusive trail or really just a community trail.