RUTH DOYLE: Okay. Well, I’ve been on an adrenaline rush all day so this shouldn’t be a problem.
My apologies. I was supposed to be here. Theoretically, I would have been here on two earlier planes but transportation problems such as they are.
While this is loading up, I’ll just introduce myself. I am Ruth Doyle. Right now, I’m the regional landscape architect for the region southwest region, which includes hi, Dave the forests the 11 forests in New Mexico and Arizona, and also the grasslands in Oklahoma and Texas. Before I became the regional landscape architect and if you want to go before I became the regional landscape architect, I’ve been in the Forest Service about 20 years and during that time have done a lot of design for campgrounds, picnic areas, trails, and trailheads, and I was also heavily involved in accessibility.
Okay. So in 1997 to 1999, I was the Forest Service representative on the U.S. Access Board’s Regulatory Negotiation Committee for these outdoor developed areas fondly known as the reg neg group. And was also one of the editors of the final report, and much of which is in this the proposed rule right now.
And in addition, I also coauthored the Forest Service accessibility guidelines for outdoor recreation areas. The Forest Service trail accessible guidelines, and also the Forest Service Accessibility Guidelines for Guidebook for Outdoor Recreation. How do you implement these guidelines and make it a little more easy for people to understand.
The Forest Service guidelines are based on the Reg Neg proposal. Okay.
So before I get started, to make sure that everybody is familiar with the Forest Service and to to put my comments in context, so just to quickly run through some general comments, there are 175 national forests and grasslands.
We have 406 Congressionally designated wilderness areas, 133,000 miles of trail, 95 wild and scenic rivers, 18,000 developed recreation sites, and we receive well over 200 million visits every year.
The Forest Service’s national niche, what we do, what we represent in recreation, is nature based, dispersed outdoor recreation. So what does that mean?
We have a lot of recreation that takes place in the developed areas of the forest, where there are few, if any, constructed facilities, and the Forest Service refers to these areas that are illustrated up there as general forest areas.
Again, people are just out in the you know, the back 40, basically, with very little, if any, modifications.
But we also have a range of developed recreation facilities to for camping, picnicking, scenery, swimming.
The Forest Service accessibility policy is to maximize accessibility while protecting and maintaining the character and experience of the natural setting.
We strongly support guidelines that specifically address developed outdoor areas. We need these guidelines to help the agency maximize accessibility while protecting the natural setting. The reason why people are going out to recreate.
In 1993, we established universal design as the agency’s policy. And that’s all new or altered facilities or constructed facilities will be accessible. And to help the field designers understand what that meant, we published we wrote and published universal access to outdoor recreation, a design guide. And people recreate in the national lands because they’re looking for a range of opportunities, from highly developed areas with paving and hot showers to these remote areas where there may be little or no facilities, but if we’re putting a structure, toilet building, picnic table out there, it should be accessible.
And through universal design, all visitors with and without disabilities can recreate together in the setting they choose. And as I mentioned, ’97 and ’99, we did sit on the Reg Neg Committee and in 2000, the agency directed the Forest Service employees to follow the technical provisions that were developed during those that 1999 draft guidelines.
But 2001, the Forest Service was legally challenged for following these draft guidelines before they went through public comment and at issue was that this was a violation of the administrative procedures act. At the same time, the draft guidelines were still being reviewed by the Access Board and were ready to go through the rule making process, so what do we do?
2002, in order to continue working on our recreation facilities, our attorneys instructed us to develop our own accessibility guidelines, and take them through the public comment process, which is what we did. And they are based on the guidelines that were developed in the Reg Neg Committee. In 2005, we went through comment, and in 2006, the accessibility guidelines were published.
These are legally enforceable within just the Forest Service. And what we’ve found, between 1999 and 2006, we worked with our trail partners, accessibility specialists, recreation specialists, both within and outside the agency, and we learned a whole bunch of stuff that can also pertain to the Reg Neg guidelines or excuse me, I’m going to call them Reg Neg. That’s just what I’m used to but it’s the proposed rule.
So what did we learn? Namely, there’s a lot more detail that was needed to address a lot of unique aspects of the outdoor environment than we ever were able to get to in the Reg Neg Committee. So as we started incorporating all these new issues, we realized that one single document became a little unwieldy, and so we broke them into two.
We have the Forest Service outdoor recreation accessibility guidelines, that deals with just the campgrounds, picnic areas, scenic overlooks, et cetera, and the Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines. And what this also does is makes it a lot easier for people who are just working on campgrounds or just working on trails to go to the respective document and quickly find the information they’re looking for.
So what have we learned?
1993, we learned that accessible design is sustainable design. Firm and stable surfaces require a lot less maintenance and that’s a big issue for us and a lot of other federal agencies.
Accessible widgets, the tables, fire rings, grills, serve everybody. And the hundred percent scoping that we do with our guidelines, which is requiring all picnic tables, grills, fire rings that we’re going to be putting in the outdoor environment to be accessible simplifies the purchasing and installation processes. And it allows each visitor the full range of choice of where they want to camp or picnic.
So the result?
Is that no person’s choice is limited to a certain percent of accessible furnishings placed where we and the agency decided they probably would be best being located.
So we’ve got picnicking. It spans all the different environments.
Swimming beaches. Across all environments again.
Overlooks for viewing.
(Showing photographs as examples)
RUTH DOYLE: Of course I’m with the Forest Service and we never do anything without talking about toilets in the Forest Service and we have lots of toilets.
So when the Forest Service designs and constructs new recreation sites, things something that has not been there before, we place the constructed features where they can be integrated seamlessly with accessibility in the environment, and we feel that our job is done well when you go to a facility and you don’t know that it’s accessible. It is. It doesn’t call out. It doesn’t stigmatize or draw attention to the fact that we’ve done all these extraordinary efforts to make it accessible. It is just part of good design.
So we’ve also picked up a lot of concern well, not a lot of concerns. Some issues that we realize really need some more consideration.
And one of them relates to the outdoor recreation access routes that we are putting in developed recreation areas.
These ORARs as we call them are pathways that connect to the constructed features within a facility, so the camp unit to the water to the toilet building to the parking, and they’re within the camp or picnic now, the proposed guidelines do not permit exceptions from the technical provisions that deal with the slope, how wide, surfacing, of the outdoor recreation access route. But the rule does pose the question: Should there be an exception?
So we work with the terrain as much as possible to preserve, as I said, the natural setting, while complying with the required guidelines, technical provisions for the recreation outdoor access routes.
And while universal design of the constructed features, the “things” that we’re putting out there, makes sense in all areas, regardless of where they’re located, the terrain of the outdoor environment is what it is. Most of our national forests are in the forests and often with rugged or steep terrain, and if I don’t know if you’ve gone to Rocky Mountain or you will be going, but, you know, just driving around here, you can see how once you get outside the city limits, the terrain gets pretty steep and that can be an issue.
So here’s the problem: In the Forest Service and I think a lot of federal agencies are similar most of our sites were constructed in the 1950s, 1960s, sometimes even earlier. And at that time, little or no consideration was given to accessibility when the location was being selected for a particular area.
And now, with the way budgets are, we and our backlog of these existing sites we are spending more effort fixing up our existing sites than we are doing new construction. It’s just the way it works. And I think pretty probably every federal agency and probably a lot of the state providers are also doing the same thing.
So you might find campgrounds or picnic areas where, as I said, the accessibility wasn’t considered so you’ve got parking up here, and a place a flat bench, especially in the southwest, a bench for the picnic unit down here (indicating), and the sites are narrow, they’re located along a stream, they’re in these steep canyons, so you don’t have a whole lot of flexibility with the terrain.
Now, as these older campgrounds and facilities are reconstructed, the constructed features, the tables, the grills, the trash receptacles, water, et cetera, can be made accessible and we are doing that a hundred percent, but you don’t have a whole lot of option with a location and the terrain.
The outdoor recreation access route may not be able to meet all of the slope, in particular, and that is the biggest constraint. In the draft guidelines, due to the terrain, historic cultural features and a whole other host of other specific conditions. So basically, in some places, no matter how hard you try, you can’t get there from here, following the guidelines that are in these in the proposed regulations.
So the lesson that we have learned, in applying these guidelines, from 1999 actually and before through now is that there is an absolute critical need to have an exception for the outdoor recreation route guidelines for the natural terrain in order to fit into the natural terrain and the setting. And what we’re doing in the Forest Service is we’re limiting that to existing sites only, because when we’re going in and building a new facility, something that has never existed there before, the natural accessibility to the site is a selection criteria. You’re not going to build something in some of the places where we have facilities. We’re not going to get rid of a lot of them, though, because they’re dearly loved. They mean a lot to people. So we’re having to try to do the best with what we can.
But having an exception to the ORAR is critical for really making sure that the reason that people are going to the outdoor environment is still being protected, while we’re also maximizing accessibility.
So here are some examples of sites that have been recently reconstructed. You can cut, you can fill, you can build retaining walls, but sometimes even that is not enough. And in order to get to that plum spot on the other side of the river, sometimes, you know, you do have to have some stairs. An example on the right. It’s a great spot for a picnic or for a campsite but in order to get there, it had to have steps. And again, this was an existing site, extremely limited and challenging terrain, and so this is what you know, kind of the reality of working in the natural environment.
Okay. How am I doing?
So another concern relates to the general forest areas. That’s what I mentioned earlier on were these remote areas, where constructed features such as a pit toilet may not be provided, but if it is provided, it’s primarily for resource protection, not the comfort and convenience of the visitor.
These areas are not developed recreation areas, but the reg Reg Neg Committee, we didn’t really discuss these sorts of things, so we’re not sure if they’re really covered under these guidelines or not, but they’re definitely not developed recreation areas in the sense that the Reg Neg Committee was developing these guidelines for all these other areas.
However, in our guidelines, we are requiring any constructed feature, again, that we are providing out in the outdoor environment tables, toilet buildings to be accessible in accordance with the Architectural Barriers Act. The thing itself.
But the terrain to reach these structures in these general forest areas obviously is way steeper than what would be allowed with the outdoor recreation access access route slope provisions, so even though the widget itself will be accessible, it may be more appropriate to follow the technical guidelines for trails or even have an exception to that outdoor recreation access route, as your question posed, than trying to meet the guidelines for the outdoor recreation access route.
So I thank you for your time. I think that’s my last one. It is. I will be submitting comments, written comments, so there’s a whole lot more I’d like to offer, but anyway, thank you for your time.
PHILIP PEARCE (BOARD MEMBER): We appreciate you coming in and in a rush, and we understand that you’re a little out of breath because of the hurry that you made to try to get here.
RUTH DOYLE: Yeah. Well, we are nothing if not persistent in the Forest Service.
PHILIP PEARCE: I understand. Thank you for coming. John Woods has got a question.
JOHN WOODS (BOARD MEMBER): You know you’ll have to excuse me. I’m an engineer. But when you talk about there are some that you and I’m talking about remote. I’m not talking about landmark sites.
Can’t the forest reclaim where one is and you just move it 100 yards or across across the road? I assume you do that.
RUTH DOYLE: Oh, we do an awful lot of that, but sometimes literally you have a canyon, a road that is going through the canyon, and you have steep slopes on either side and there’s not a whole lot you can do. We do an awful lot of when we go in and do a he are construction, it’s not just to do a little bit this, a little bit there, it’s basically, you know, tear everything out and put things in the best location but sometimes even with that, because the slope is such there is not a whole lot of modification you can do.
And also, just if I can take one more little minute.
JOHN WOODS: No problem.
RUTH DOYLE: Where we do have the exception in the guidelines for existing as I mentioned, when we have existing sites that are being altered and we do have an exception to the outdoor recreation access route slope provision, it is in existing sites only. We make that clear. It does not apply to new construction. And also, this is after you have gone through basically you’ve pulled yourself through a knot hole to try you know, can you locate it someplace else, can you do anything else to meet the guidelines. And once you have exhausted really absolutely every single possibility, then are you allowed to invoke that exception and say, you know, “I’ve done the best I could, I have to have steps in here or I have to have a steeper slope” so it’s a pretty exhaustive process that designers are expected to go through.
DAVE PARKS (DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR LIAISON TO THE BOARD): Hi, Ruth. Just a comment, and I have, of course, looked at the comparison between your guidelines and the differences between these guidelines.
And I think there is a confusion in looking at the outdoor recreation access routes in the proposed rule from the standpoint of some of the discussions we had during the regulatory negotiating committee.
If I understand it correctly, though, if we applied the conditional departures to outdoor recreation access routes, that would pretty much solve the issue that you’re raising, wouldn’t it.
RUTH DOYLE: Oh, yeah. That would be that would be it. That’s definitely what would be needed. Like we have for most of the other provisions. But for whatever reason, we had decided that, no, we probably aren’t going to need them for the outdoor recreation
DAVE PARKS: And if we applied that across the board, wouldn’t that deal with your general forest areas question as well.
RUTH DOYLE: Yes. Yes, it would. Yeah.
DAVE PARKS: All right. Thank you.
PHILIP PEARCE: Thank you. John Wyvill.
JOHN WYVILL (BOARD MEMBER): Okay. Ruth, this is John Wyvill, public member. I have a question for you.
If you had one thing that you’d want the Access Board to do in the context of this hearing, what would it be, and why?
RUTH DOYLE: One thing?
JOHN WYVILL: One thing. The one most important thing.
RUTH DOYLE: Ooooh. Hmm… I guess it’s to really look at you know, the whole premise of these of the Reg Neg Committee’s work, which got translated into the proposed rule making, was that we wanted to maximize accessibility, as well as protect the natural environment.
And I think that is the thing that with all the comments that you’ve heard, and I I unfortunately missed Teresa’s but she did address the trails. That is the thing that I would really encourage you to think about. That there is a reason why people are going to the outdoor environment for recreation, as opposed to Disney World or some other higher level you know, more urban type of facility and it is absolutely vital that we make sure that whatever guidelines we’re imposing on the natural environment are going to not, all of a sudden, start changing the reason why people are going out there.
And I guess that’s a really vague answer, maybe, but, you know, the comment that I have about the outdoor recreation access route needing a needing an exception, some of the comments that I’m sure Teresa made. They’re all in light of you know, we’re natural resource managers in the Forest Service and a lot of federal agencies. We’re also deeply committed to maximizing accessibility. And there’s got to be a blending of the two and making sure that the guidelines are reasonable when they get put on the ground.
PHILIP PEARCE (BOARD MEMBER): Ruth, I have a question for you and it’s one that I proposed to Teresa and I would like to get your comments about that as well.
I think one of the things that we’ve all been a little bit concerned about is that when you put too many exceptions available into a regulation, into a rule, you always are concerned that there are going to be people out there who are just looking for an opportunity to have a reason why they don’t make anything accessible, and so I would like to hear what your comments back about that and the concerns that we have and that have been expressed to us that when you start putting those exceptions out there, what you end up with is zero accessibility and and I think that some of the other comments that I’ve gotten is that previously people said, “Well, if we make it accessible, it’s not going to matter because nobody in a wheelchair using a mobility device or anything else has ever really wanted to use these facilities.”
RUTH DOYLE: Uh huh.
PHILIP PEARCE: Not understanding that the reason people haven’t wanted to use the facilities is because they couldn’t use the facilities. They weren’t available to them. And so…
RUTH DOYLE: Yeah.
PHILIP PEARCE: We’re very sensitive to the concept that if you give too many exceptions, we’ll end up with zero accessibility. So tell me what your reaction to that is.
PHILIP PEARCE: They were applauding you, not me.
RUTH DOYLE: Well, and I realize you know, we we’ve had that discussion numerous times during the Reg Neg Committee and then afterwards when the Forest Service was working on, you know, taking those guidelines and then adapting them to the Forest Service.
And we’ve had numerous, numerous discussions about that. And it’s kind of like the speeding limits, you know. You post it at 65, you hope people are going to go 65. Are people going to go 70? Yeah.
And with these guidelines, though, and the trainings that, you know, we have on every single forest there’s a forest accessibility coordinator. In the regional offices, which we have nine regions throughout the Forest Service, every single regional office has a regional accessibility coordinator and we work really closely with our national program manager who is Janet Zeller that you’ll be meeting and most of you maybe already know than but you’ll be seeing her in D.C. and, you know, we have this this really good system of training.
And Janet’s been out and talked to a number of different forests and I’ve gone around and I’ve given, you know, lots of presentations. I’ve worked with people. And I think basically okay. Here, call me Pollyanna, but I really do believe that people want to do in the Forest Service for the most part, people want to do the right thing, and where we have exceptions, they’re for a really good reason. And that’s why we’ve limited our exceptions to the outdoor recreation access routes to existing sites only, not new construction.
And so it’s a combination of training, of building the awareness you know, since it was ’93 but actually longer than that, much earlier than that in the Forest Service that we’ve you know, the agency has embraced universal design and accessibility as policy direction. It’s in our manual.
And I think that it’s I really do believe, because I’ve talked to enough people, there are some people out there. There are still the old time attitude of, “Oh, I’ve never seen anybody in a wheelchair here. Why defensive to make it accessible.” Well, maybe, duh! Because it wasn’t accessible to begin with. But nonetheless, if we don’t have exceptions, you’re going to wind up with stuff on the ground that nobody’s going to be happy with and it won’t be a good use of taxpayer dollars. And so I believe in the good of people and that they really do want to do the right thing out there.
PHILIP PEARCE: Okay. Thank you and let me just follow up with with kind of in my mind, anyway, what’s the next logical step beyond that, because we’ve had several of our people who have come up and testified and have indicated that they really would like for this to be applicable beyond the federal agencies, and my expectations are that that’s going to happen.
When we begin to take that next step and look at extending the applicability of the guidelines beyond the federal agencies, one of the things that we absolutely want to avoid is having one set for the federal government.
RUTH DOYLE: Uh huh.
PHILIP PEARCE: That maybe they do have, you know, good hearts and they want to do the right thing and then whenever you give those exceptions to the private and the state and local governments, maybe their hearts aren’t quite as about. You know, I’m not saying that they’re not, but maybe they aren’t.
And so what we want to make sure to avoid is having two sets of standards where it becomes incumbent upon the person with a disability to know who owns the land or who manages the land before they go to visit there, so that they’ll know what accessibility to expect and what accessibility they can’t expect.
RUTH DOYLE: Okay.
PHILIP PEARCE: We want to make sure that we avoid that. And so one of the things that we’re I think that’s real important that we do is to look down the road and ensure that we don’t do something now that later on we’ll look at and go, “You know, we really weren’t thinking very hard what the future holds.”
RUTH DOYLE: Well, I’d agree and I also believe that the exceptions and the things that we’re recommending for the Forest Service federal agencies would apply equally to other recreation outdoor recreation providers. I mean there are examples in D.C. where you get a little bit outside the city core and there are parks that are still I mean the terrain doesn’t care whether it’s near a city or operated by the Forest Service or the Park Service. The terrain is going to do what it wants to do, and is doing, and so these guidelines I understand the concern about making sure that you know, that we’re going to evil proof, I guess, the guidelines but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater and make sure that we’re still making these guidelines something that can be applied without completely changing the outdoor environment.
PHILIP PEARCE: And I think that’s the challenge that we face and I appreciate that and appreciate your comments. Does anybody else have any further comments?
JOHN WOODS (BOARD MEMBER): If I may, Mr. Chair, just to sort of reinforce that, we’ve heard comments from other people about making sure that these exceptions are exceptions rather than the rule.
RUTH DOYLE: Uh huh.
JOHN WOODS: And I think having gone through the regulatory negotiation process and working with not just the National Park Service but the other agencies and the Department of the Interior as well, we do have some of those areas that need exceptions, but figuring out how to do that, so that they don’t become the rule rather than the exception, is really the issue we have to grapple with here. And we grappled with it in the Reg Neg Committee and we still have to grapple with it in the final report.
PHILIP PEARCE: Thank you very much.
RUTH DOYLE: Okay.