Making the Grade

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Awaiting Outdoor Accessibility Standards: Trail Building at Shaver’s Creek

by Donica Conseen and Nikki Montembeault


In July 2007, the United States Access Board issued the Notice of Proposed Rule Making Guidelines for Federal Outdoor Developed Areas, which in 2009 then became the Draft Final Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas and were made available for comment until December 2009. While these guidelines have not yet reached their final status they are recommended as best practices, and are designed to encourage entities to address accessibility concerns within the realm of the outdoors. The specific outdoor areas that are covered by the Draft Final Outdoor guidelines include: camping facilities, picnic facilities, viewing areas, outdoor recreation access routes, trailheads, trails, and beach access routes. As it pertains to this article, the guidelines provided the parameters for the design and construction of the Shaver’s Creek trail. 



Students on trail.

School students utilizing the new accessible trail at Shaver's Creek.

When Brian Sedgwick, Building Services Coordinator for Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, first heard the National Center on Accessibility (NCA) was offering training last spring in San Antonio, he was thrilled at the opportunity to attend.   Sedgwick’s anticipation to attend an NCA training course was sparked by an upcoming project to design a new accessible trail at Shaver’s Creek. The outdoor center at The Pennsylvania State University provides a variety of educational and recreational opportunities ranging from tours, trails, discovery rooms, a boardwalk and gardens. The center conducts programing for children and the community within the Stone Valley Recreation Area in central Pennsylvania.  Going into the training Sedgwick was not only hoping to gain insight on how to best approach the project, but also how he could create awareness of the principles of universal design with the project team and among staff.  While attending the training Sedgwick learned that there are many factors which affect the accessibility of a trail. Physical elements such as the firmness and stability of the trail surface were discussed, in addition to programmatic elements such as providing tactile elements along the trail. Tactile elements not only enhance the experience offered but provide a more accessible experience to those visitors with low vision or who are blind, visitors with cognitive impairments, and in the spirit of universal design, children at various levels of development.  When Sedgwick returned home, he started examining the Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center from an accessibility standpoint in addition to Shaver’s Creek Trail.  Recognizing the importance of the principles of universal design, he began to educate both his co-workers and the students he teaches at Penn State on the principles in hopes that they would be put into practice.

Lava Beds Maintenance Crew Re-Engineers CCC Picnic Tables

by Annie Cornett

Built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), several picnic tables located within Lava Beds National Park recently required restoration in order to replace the top, wood surface which had slowly deteriorated over the years.  According to Don Bowen, Chief of Maintenance at Lava Beds National Park, it was typical for the park to replace the table tops every 15-20 years, but it became apparent during the most recent restoration that accessible tables would need to be provided.

Integrating Sustainable and Universal Design: A New Approach to Achieving Excellence

by Annie Cornett

As the emphasis on environmentalism and conservation continues to grow, it is becoming more essential than ever for the design and construction of new facilities to not only meet requirements for providing access for all individuals, but to also embrace this “green” philosophy. Universal and green design are not technically design styles, but simply points of reference that often influence the design and construction process. They have the ability, when integrated together, drive the design process creating facilities that are more user friendly and environmentally conscience as well.

Sandusky Gives New Life to Community Greenhouse

The winter weather outside might be frightful, but the blooms of the newly renovated Sandusky Community Greenhouse are absolutely delightful. The community greenhouse and Sandusky/Erie Community Foundation are beneficiaries of one of the $15 million in grants awarded through the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Access to Recreation initiative.

Innovation and Commitment Improve the Quality of Michigan DNR Accessible Programs and Facilities

by Anne Cornett


With a rich history dating back to the 1800’s, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has proven to be one of this century’s most dedicated advocates of accessible recreation. With the advent of ADA regulations in 1990 and the implementation of the Access to Recreation initiative in 2006 sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Michigan DNR has embraced the challenge of providing accessible opportunities to all individuals interested in participation. From accessible hunting blinds and trails, to an innovative water transfer system the Michigan DNR truly goes above and beyond to provide the best experience possible.

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.

Wire Mesh Railing Treatment Increases Visibility at Fanning Springs State Park

Designers planning boardwalks and viewing platforms are often challenged with creating accessible spaces and balancing the need for safety. Planners for the Florida State Parks decided to meet the challenge head on in Fanning Springs State Park. Planners used a wire mesh railing treatment to increase visibility while maintaining safety for park visitors.

Fanning Springs State Park is located on Florida's west coast on the famous Suwannee River, halfway between Tallahassee and Tampa. The park offers nature trails, swimming, boating and other various outdoor activities. Fanning Spring is one of Florida's 27 first magnitude springs. The wire mesh railing is installed on an 8 ½' x 11' boardwalk that extends from a swimming area to a gazebo overlooking the river.

New Lift on Trolley Gives Visitors Opportunity to See Parks and Gardens

Throughout the summer, trolley riders can take an interpretive tour as it meanders through the Sinnissippi Gardens and along the Rock River in Rockford, Illinois. The Rockford Park District, which operates Trolley Car 36 and the tour through the gardens, has been exploring options and has come up with a solution for making the trolley accessible.

The trolley excursion was first identified with an architectural barrier in the District's transition plan back in 1992. Many discussions amongst staff over the years have centered on creative solutions for making the trolley accessible. At one point, discussion focused on adding boarding ramps at the trolley station and at stops along the railway. However, railroad regulations restricted the placement of such boarding ramps in too close a proximity to the railroad tracks. So discussion turned to modifying the historic trolley itself.

Inclusive Park and Recreation Design: Versluis Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan

"It broke my heart every day seeing Dad or Mom seated on the pavement watching their kids play 100 feet away on the beach." These words from John Short, Parks Director of Plainfield Charter Township, echoed the feelings of many in the community.

This quickly growing township on the northeast edge of Grand Rapids saw a need at Versluis Park and responded to the challenge. Tired of observing patrons who were unable to engage in beach and water activities because of varying abilities, they decided to do something about it.

Barre Falls Dam Picnic Area: An Outdoor Developed Area "Making the Grade" in Hubbarston, MA

Spring time brings a flurry of activity to our parks and recreation areas. As people return to the parks en masse, recreation providers hustle to make improvements to their sites. As park staff undertake spring projects, consider the Barre Falls Dam example and take a proactive approach towards providing accessibility. "We had picnic tables with no seats. People with disabilities would come with their families and the family members would have no where to sit." Ralph Gendron, Project Manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, refers to the picnic site recently completed at Barre Falls Dam in Hubbardston, Massachusetts.