Happy National Disability Employment Awareness Month! Meet our newest Friends Grassroots Network group, the Trail Access Project. Read our behind-the-scenes Q&A with Trail Access to learn more about how they make the outdoors more accessible and equitable for all!
Tell us a bit about your organization. How did you all get started?
Trail Access Project is a Nevada-based nonprofit whose mission is to help people with disabilities have meaningful experiences outdoors. This work was started by Ed Price, who has a progressive paralysis disability himself. In 2017 Trail Access Project began work with a Recreational Trails Program grant to assess selected trails on federal lands surrounding Las Vegas for their accessibility characteristics.
While assessing trails, we never encountered anyone with a disability. Because we wanted to interact more with people, we were successful in getting a grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation to purchase specially-designed trail model wheelchairs. Our goal with the chairs is to offer adaptive hiking events to help individuals get beyond the crowds and the “accessible” trail and into the backcountry. COVID 19 prevented having our events until fall of 2021. We just completed our first adaptive hiking event hosted by Rocky Mountain National Park.
Another important activity is the compilation of a national Adaptive Hiking Trails map database built by adaptive hikers based on their own experiences, and by trail managers. Trail descriptions include information about grade, cross slope, surface firmness, and obstacles so that a potential trail user can decide for themselves, ahead of a trip, whether a trail is suitable for their enjoyment and safety.
Can you share with us one of your favorite “wins” or when you felt like “yes!” or “we’re making this happen” moments?
Trail Access Project just completed a three-day trail assessment training and two days of adaptive hiking, hosted by Rocky Mountain National Park. Training participants were from Grand Teton and Rocky Mountain National Parks. Adaptive hiking participants were with Teton Adaptive Sports, the National Park Service, City of Boulder, Colorado, and some local Colorado friends.
Five adaptive hiking participants have paralysis from spinal cord injuries. The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, who support programs for people with paralysis, funded filming of the events by LegUp Media through a grant to Trail Access Project. Move United supported our grant application.
The objective of our adaptive hiking was to get individuals with paralysis out past the crowded “accessible” trail into wilderness, using specialized wheelchairs.
What are some projects you’re excited about in the future?
We are excited about three concepts for the future:
- Advocating for greater access to National Conservation Lands for individuals with disabilities. This could be as simple as providing a wider gate so a wheelchair can pass through.
- Increasing the number of trails included in our online map database of more “accessible” trails across the U.S.
- Conducting trail outings for individuals with disabilities, especially individuals with spinal cord injuries, into the backcountry, possibly for their very first time.
What’s something you think everyone should know about adaptive hiking?
Specially-designed powered wheelchairs are allowed on any hiking trail in any federal land, even in more remote wilderness. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service specify in Code 36 of Federal Regulation (CFR) 212.1 and Forest Service Manual 2363.05 states “A device, including one that is battery-powered, designed solely for use by a mobility-impaired person for locomotion and suitable for use in an indoor pedestrian area can be used on trails. A person whose disability requires use of a wheelchair or mobility device may use either device if it meets this definition anywhere foot travel is allowed even in federally designated Wilderness.”
How can others support your work and organization?
To date, Trails Access Project has operated entirely with grants. In the future we want to attract contributions from individuals who would like to support activities for individuals with disabilities. Perhaps it's time to add a “donate” button to our website.
Watch this video that highlights the Trail Access Project!