Accessible Wilderness Camping Made Possible – Scout’s Honor!

by Michelle Cook

When the location of travel is located "off the beaten path" access becomes challenging for people with disabilities. This is the task that Andrew Trontis chose to undertake: to build a barrier-free wilderness campsite developed in the rugged backwoods area of the Teertertown Nature Preserve, a Hunterdon County Park, in Lebanon Township, NJ.

The purpose and challenge of this project was to eliminate barriers to a wilderness area and provide access to a genuine camping opportunity for individuals with disabilities. This undertaking also served as Andy’s Eagle Scout Service Project to the benefit of his local community. The campsite won the 2007 Ruth Hughes Innovative Accessible Recreation Facility Award, presented by the NJ Commission on Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities.

Andrew, dressed in his scouting uniform, stands before a group of five people with disabilities at the accessible camp site.

Eagle Scout Andrew Trontis explains the camp site's accessibility features with nature preserve visitors with disabilities.

Andrew (left) and a volunteer move earth with shovels to begin shaping the raised tent pad.
Andrew (left) and a volunteer move earth with shovels to begin shaping the raised tent pad.
One of the tent pads with a wheelchair transfer step and roll-in access on the opposite end.
 The campsite begins to take shape.
 A man in a wheelchair inspects the transfer structure and orthopedic trapeze unit at the campsite.
 A nature preserve visitor who uses a wheelchair looks over the transfer system at the campsite.

The project was intended to replace an existing accessible campsite within the Teetertown Preserve which was located near the roadside and in need of major repair. Andy designed the new campsite to be tucked away from civilization and modern amenities to assure campers would get a genuine outdoor experience. The new location was designed to include two tent areas, an accessible portable toilet, picnic table, benches, adjustable fire ring, firewood and water jug rack.

The two tent areas can accommodate individuals with a variety of disabilities. The first tent pad has roll-in access for people using wheelchairs and other assistive devices. The second tent pad is raised for a unique wheelchair-to-tent pad transfer point. This transfer platform includes a low wall constructed at transfer height and upright supports on either side with handles that can be used by campers to pull themselves over to the raised tent surface. Upon request campground staff can add and overhead orthopedic trapeze at the transfer point for additional support. Outside of the tent and campfire area is a paved parking space for two vehicles that connects to a barrier-free route of travel into the campsite. Once inside the camp area, the parking lot is masked by an earth wall and evergreen trees.

The site was constructed entirely of donated materials and the assistance of volunteer service. All trail and campsite surfaces are packed with quarry screenings, while the two tent pads consists of natural surface, screenings and wood fiber to ensure durability and comfort. The campsite was assessed by members of the disabled community before being opened for public use. Andy reported that the feedback he received was incredibly positive. The visitors were excited that the tent pads had multi-modal access points accounting for upper body mobility and strength issues.

The standards (ADAAG, ADA-ABA , and NPRM-ODA) for construction and accessible products were recommended to Andy by the therapeutic recreation specialist for Hunterdon County. Andy used these as a guide for design and construction of the project. The outcome met and exceeded the guidelines expectations with exception to accessible benches as defined in the NPRM-ODA. Andy chose to term the campsite ‘barrier-free’ because, “We expect that we will encounter obstacles in a wilderness campsite. Accessible means you can get there. Barrier-free implies that once you get there, the expected obstacles are eliminated.”

For more information on this project, contact:

Andrew Trontis, Project Designer
John G. Trontis, CPRP, Director
Hunterdon County Department of Parks & Recreation
P.O. Box 2900
Flemington, NJ 08822-2900


The citation for this article is:

Cook, M.  (December 27, 2007). Accessible Wilderness Camping Made Possible – Scout’s Honor!  Making the Grade. Indiana University-Bloomington: National Center on Accessibility.  Retrieved from