Crotched Mountain conference focuses on making trails accessible

Union Leader Correspondent
September 24. 2013 9:43PM
Janet Zeller, a Nation Accessibility Program Manager for the U.S. Forest Service, teaches the new federal guidelines regarding the accessibility of nature trails during the Sustainable Trails for All Conference at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield Tuesday afternoon. (MEGHAN PIERCE PHOTO)

GREENFIELD — At the trailhead for Gregg and Dutton Brook trails at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center on Tuesday, Janet Zeller pointed to the trail signs and maps at the entrance and explained the importance of color contrast for visually impaired people.

“Most people with visual disabilities aren’t blind,” said Zeller, who is a National Accessibility Program Manager for the U.S. Forest Service and was a speaker at the “Sustainable Trails for All” conference hosted by Crotched Mountain. “Color and contrast make a big difference.”

The conference was held to educate trail builders and maintainers from across New England on the new federal guidelines, Federal Trail Accessibility, that are being released and published Thursday.

Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center opened its accessible trail system in 2011 after working with Zeller and trail designer and builder Peter Jensen to build the trails to be easily accessible to people of all abilities, including people who use wheelchairs for mobility, seniors and families with children.

Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center wanted to utilize its vast acreage of land for recreational use in a way that would also fit with its mission, said spokesperson Liz LaRose.

Zeller and Jensen designed the trail system to the standards of the soon-to-be-released federal guidelines, LaRose said. So they serve as a perfect example during the conference.

“The purpose of the guidelines is to allow all people of all abilities access into nature and to trails,” LaRose said.

For many at the conference the guidelines will serve as a model in best practices for trail building, but for others knowing how to design and build a trail to these new standards is part of their job. The guidelines apply to new or altered federal trails.

“We’ll have to adhere to these, we receive a lot of federal funds,” said Ama Koenigshof, trail builder and educator for the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.

What she learns at the conference will also be passed on by her to 10,000 volunteers who help maintain the more than 2,000 miles of trails that are part of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, she said.

Harry Seidel of Newbury works with the Wheelchair Health in Motion program, which helped create a trail system on recreation land in Newbury.

That project didn’t meet the accessibility standards Wheelchair Health in Motion had intended it to, Seidel said, so he was at the conference to learn the guidelines and hands- on skills Jensen was teaching so that perhaps in the future the Newbury trails could be made more accessible, he said.

Other attendees included trail builders, landscape architects, engineers and anyone responsible for building and managing trails and stewarding land with public access, including trusts, conservation commissions and parks.

The grade, width and surface of nature trails can be created to allow for not just people with disabilities, but seniors and families with small children so no one is left behind, LaRose said.

“We hope as many people as possible will incorporate these guidelines,” LaRose said. “Somebody who has a disability can hike on a trial for a good length of time with their family and not be left behind. It can be a challenging experience. It can be a beautiful experience. They’ll be able to experience that together. We think that’s very important.”

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