Forests With Handrails? The ADA and Land Preservation
“While nature is not a uniquely suitable setting, it seems to have a peculiar power to stimulate us to reflectiveness by its awesomeness and grandeur, its complexity, the unfamiliarity of untrammeled ecosystems to urban residents, and the absence of distractions. The special additional claim for nature as a setting is that it not only promotes self-understanding, but also an understanding of the world in which we live. Our initial response to nature is often awe and wonderment: trees that have survived for millennia; a profusion of flowers in the seeming sterility of the desert; predator and prey living in equilibrium. These marvels are intriguing, but their appeal is not merely aesthetic. Nature is also a successful model of many things that human communities seek: continuity, stability and sustenance, adaptation, sustained productivity, diversity, and evolutionary change. The frequent observations that natural systems renew themselves without exhaustion of resources, that they thrive on tolerance for diversity, and they resist the arrogance of the conqueror all seem to give confirmation to the intuitions of the contemplative recreationist.”
ADA Purpose and Findings • Historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities, and, despite some improvements, such forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem; • Discrimination against individuals with disabilities persists in such critical areas as employment, housing, public accommodations, education, transportation, communication, recreation, institutionalization, health services, voting, and access to public services. • Therefore, the purpose of the ADA is: • “to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities”
Part III of the ADA requires that places of public accommodation be made accessible
“No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” The United States Supreme Court has said that: There is a “balance between the statutory rights of the handicapped to be integrated into society and the legitimate interests [of the State] ... in preserving the integrity of [a public] program.” The Supreme Court struck that balance by requiring that persons with disabilities be provided “meaningful access” through reasonable accommodations to publically funded benefits or programs without otherwise “fundamentally” or “substantially” altering the underlying benefit or program.
Does the ADA apply to Land Preserves? The definition of “public accommodations” includes “a park, zoo, amusement park, or other place of recreation.” Private property encumbered by a conservation easement is generally not a place of public accommodation. So does the ADA apply to trails? What about other structures on a nature preserve?
The Access Board’s Proposed Guidelines • Access Board is the Governmental entity designated to develop rules for ADA compliance • Draft rules have been promulgated for Federal Lands • Guidelines can be found at: http://www.access-board.gov/outdoor/nprm/ • Public comment is currently being taken on the proposed rules. The comment period ends October 18, 2007. • More information can be found at: www.access-board.gov www.americantrails.org
The Term “trail” is defined as a route that is designed, constructed, or designated for recreational pedestrian use or provided as a pedestrian alternative to vehicular routes within a transportation system.
So what is an accessible trail? • Clear tread width: 36" minimum • Tread Obstacles: 2" high maximum (up to 3" high where running and cross slopes are 5% or less) • Cross Slope: 5% max. • Running slope (trail grade) meets one or more of the following:- 5% or less for any distance.- up to 8.33% for 200' max. Resting intervals no more than 200' apart.- up to10% for 30' max. Resting intervals 30'.- up to 12.5% for 10' max. Resting intervals 10'. • No more than 30% of the total trail length may exceed a running slope of 8.33%. • Passing Space: provided at least every 1000' where trail width is less than 60" • Signs: shall be provided indicating the length of the accessible trail segment.
How does the ADA apply to trails? • Existing trails do not need to be changed. • General maintenance is allowed without upgrading existing trails. • New trails or major reconstruction of existing trails are potentially subject to the ADA requirements • Only trails that are connected to an accessible trailhead or another accessible trail are required to meet the trail construction requirements
Exceptions in the Proposed Rules • Compliance would cause substantial harm to cultural, historic, religious, or significant natural features or characteristics. • Compliance would substantially alter the nature of the setting or the purpose of the facility, or • portion of the facility. • Compliance would require construction methods or materials that are prohibited by federal, state, or local regulations or statutes. • Compliance would not be feasible due to terrain or the prevailing construction practices.
How does the ADA apply to structures? • Any new structure would need to be ADA compliant • Same exceptions for trails apply • If there is no ADA compliant access, you do not need to provide an ADA compliant structure
Suggested approaches • Federal guidelines do not necessarily need to be followed by a land trust, but it is a good idea to comply where possible. • Work toward providing at least a portion of ADA compliant trails or structures on a land preserve. • Work with disability organizations or interested persons within your community on access issues.