New Trails Solve Accessibility

Trails are springing up all over the country that feature accessibility for people with mobility issues.

One such trail, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, has jaw dropping views from the scenic overlooks that are a major attraction, however for more than 80 years this authentic Appalachian forest experience and rugged terrain that made the area famous also restricted access, even to the nearby South Lookout. It was just 100 yards from the parking area, but the steep grade was a challenge for visitors with limited mobility or even those with young children.

They know that first hand viewing of wildlife is the first step in conservation. But even a short walk with a steep grade limits many from seeing it. Individuals with disabilities are either left at home or they sit alone to wait in the Visitor Center.

 After two years of planning, they created the accessible Silhouette Trail which leads to the look out. The Sanctuary credits the success of the final product to its planning team including a partnership with the CIL in their area. These partners evaluated plans, tested accessibility during construction and before opening it to the public.

The new trail was built with a slope that averages eight percent. The smooth but natural pathway is 900 feet long and six feet wide – enough for two wheelchairs to pass by one another and meanders in a wide, graceful arc through the forest.

Other enhancements include benches for rest every 100 feet, accessible trail side restrooms and improvements to the viewing platform. The benches were designed with a handrail in the middle so people can easily slide on and off and use the rail to pull. The accessible trail was the first phase of a larger project that will stretch more than half a mile in length and link all the major visitor facilities, including the outdoor center, amphitheater, native plant garden and visitor center.

Making a trail accessible will make a difference in visitation. Hawk Mountain for instance, during a typical autumn would welcome only a handful of individuals who used wheelchairs or walkers. Now they welcome someone who uses a wheelchair or walker nearly every day. Other benefits are families with strollers. They even received an outdoor Quantum Power Chair and ultra-light wheelchair to help increase access even further.

Communities across the nation are working to create accessible recreation out of doors. Blanchard Springs Caverns and the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas have accessible trails and tours available for people with disabilities. Bruneau Dunes Overlook created an upgraded circular observation overlook with easy access from the level parking lot, safety fencing and accessible vault toilet. Paved pathways, elevators and funiculars, handrails, wooden walkways have all been installed to make all the activities available to all. It’s hard to made the updates because information on accessible outdoor spaces are hard to find.

CIL’s are a good resource for any Parks and Recreation area to start with for making their trails more accessible. DAC NW was successful working with the City of Coeur d’Alene to make the Tubbs Hill Trail accessible. The restroom at Elsie Lake in Shoshone County was made fully accessible in 2017 by simply removing large boulders placed there to prevent vandalism but were too close together for a wheelchair to pass through. The City Beach in Coeur d’Alene has installed a rollup accessible sidewalk through the sand to access the water, it even includes lights for nighttime safety.

Sustainable Trails For All has hosted workshops on Trail Accessibility Guidelines in New Hampshire. These in-depth, field oriented workshops help officials understand the Federal accessibility guidelines for outdoor recreation sites. It also provides an overview of the techniques and hands on skills needed to build sustainable hiking trails that provide enjoyment for all. You can learn about new products that help with accessibility like Zeager Wood Carpet. This eco-friendly solution provides access in a natural setting. Wood fibers are bonded together to form a firm, pervious surface that eliminates eroding trails and muddy paths. You can call Deb DeCicco for more information at 603-547-1475.

If you are interested in getting outside you can find wheelchair accessible trails in Idaho at

For more info visit  NWADACENTR.ORG/IDAHO