I have the privilege of serving the public and our public lands by working for the Forest Service as a developed and dispersed sites recreation manager. My understanding of how important the natural environment is to everyone’s physical and mental well being has been reinforced in studies and reports are finding that contact with nature improves ones health and well being. People are more physically active, less depressed, less stressed and suffered less health issues when they have the opportunity to interact with nature — whether it be in a city park or National Forest. It is very important that all people have the opportunity to experience these benefits to the extent that they are able. The standards put forth in these guidelines will go far in improving access to the outdoor environment for those with disabilities.
However, it is a fact that the landscape does dictate what our limitations will be and to try to make a “one size fits all” when it comes to nature it not practical. I would hope that the Board will listen to those that have recommended that there is a 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.
As I write this, I am listening to the sound of loaders constructing an ORAR in the campground behind my office to connect campsites that we are making accessible to the rest-room, which we have tried to make as accessible as we could short of demolishing the building (it still does not meet the standards, but it is much improved). When it comes to changing existing sites built in the 1960’s to meet today’s standards — it is a lot of work, even on sites that are pretty flat to begin with. To try to do this where the terrain is even less friendly, seems unreasonable. I agree that these exceptions should only apply to existing sites and structures. If we have the opportunity to build new sites, knowing what we know now, more accessible places would be chosen and it is built right from the beginning.
I would like to hike up Mount Whitney, but I know that I am not physically fit enough to do this hike. I would not expect the government provide me with an easier route up. That removes the challenge that makes me want to go there in the first place. Likewise, I don’t think that those with disabilities will think that allowing exceptions will take offense. It’s just common sense. Like me, those with disabilities have different comfort levels — some are comfortable with all terrain wheelchairs and others want electric Cadillac models. Hopefully, we can provide more outdoor opportunities for those with disabilities at both ends of the spectrum and all of that is in between.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment.
Inyo National Forest
Mammoth Ranger Station