Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Full Parks Access for Disabled

This is a very important national process and it is very good to hear that it is moving along, as this story from the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

An excerpt.

“TRENTON, N.J. - The new federal directive has a progressive goal: giving "mobility disabled" residents a better chance to enjoy public parklands by letting them use motorized vehicles on trails.

“And park supervisors can bar such access only if they document that conditions are too rough on a given trail and publicly post the results of that study.

“But those seemingly simple changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act have New Jersey and county parklands staff scrambling to assess thousands of miles of trails. And they are rubbing up against the state's ban on motorized vehicles in environmentally sensitive lands.

“In total, officials say, they face a logistical nightmare with wide-ranging consequences.

"This is not something we can do instantly," says Larry Ragonese, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. "We have thousands of acres and miles of trails in New Jersey. And it's not as simple as putting up a sign and saying, 'Motor through.'"

“The ADA is a 1990 federal civil rights law that bans discrimination against the disabled. The changes to the act's Title II, initiated by the Department of Justice, went into effect on March 15. As of that date, if an official study hasn't certified that a publicly accessed trail is unfit for such traffic, that trail is open to all individuals with mobility disabilities who operate "other power-driven mobility devices." And that's regardless of whether the publicly accessed trail crosses privately or publicly owned land….

“Parkland stewards note that the ADA changes provide no specific definitions of "other power-driven mobility device" , whether it can be a motorized wheelchair, golf cart, an ATV or even a pickup truck. And that's resulted in confusion. Staffers at several parklands in North Jersey who were surveyed by The Record were unaware of the changes. And for residents who want to know the status of official assessments, there are few Web sources.

“Before the new ADA directives, most combustion-motor vehicles were banned on most trails on the national, state and county level because of pollution factors and the risk of damaging fragile trails and ecosystems. That concern has long been a source of conflict between motor-sport activists and environmental preservationists. Now, the new law states that a blanket ban on all motor vehicles will no longer suffice.

"We face imminent danger of a fundamental alteration to our backcountry trails, including the Appalachian Trail," the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a trail advocacy organization, said in a letter to the Department of Justice.

"Reading the rule," the letter continued, "one can see that these people are very well-meaning but, for the most part, unfamiliar with the commitment of the silent self-propelledÂ’ users, as citizens, to a conservation land ethic on our nation's national forests and parks particularly in primitive, backcountry settings like the Appalachian Trail."