TERESA MARTINEZ: Hi. Good afternoon. Thank you for the adjustment in time.
My name is Teresa Martinez and I currently work with the Continental Divide Trail Alliance as the field operations manager, and I am not a Forest Service employee but I work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, both currently in my position with CDTA, but until July 12th with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy as a trail program manager for Virginia.
The ATC and I would like to address my comments mostly to my experience with the Appalachia Trail Conservancy and the Appalachia Trail mostly because for the last two years, we have been applying (inaudible) to the Appalachia Trail and looking for opportunities to increase access for persons with disabilities to the AT. As you know, it is a primitive back country remote hiking trail that is part of the national trail system.
The ATC began to address accessibility mostly because we noticed a growing desire among the trail partners to provide opportunities for persons with disabilities to utilize the Appalachia Trail, where appropriate and feasible. As well, we started receiving increased information requests to the AT from partners for accessible recreational opportunities along the AT.
So ATC’s approach, because we mostly worked with the Forest Service and many of our lands were on Forest Service lands, was to utilize the Forest Service guidelines both for trail accessibility and outdoor recreation areas.
We were often asked, “Shouldn’t we wait until the release of the Access Board guidelines? Case they were historically different from the U.S. Forest Service guidelines?” But we felt that since the FSTAG and the FSORAG had undergone a public process (inaudible) to the content in the draft guidelines for trails and outdoor facilities developed by the Access Board in the late 1990s that we felt very safe and confident in utilizing those guidelines.
Finally, FSTAG and the FSORAG offered us an opportunity to get ahead of the curve and applies these to real field based decisions and projects and to prepare for the potential and likely adoption of the final Access Board guidelines.
So through that process, we found a lot of wonderful things. First of all, we found that a lot of times, applying accessibility to the plainer trail really wasn’t that hard because it was really applying sound trail design to the Appalachian Trail in our new projects.
We did that, though, through using the FSTAG because we found it to be very user friendly and in the case of the Appalachian Trail as well as in the Continental Divide trail, that a lot of our trail partners are, in fact, volunteers. And volunteers when they’re very empowered and take upon themselves to apply these standards, you know, they need it in plain English because a lot of times they’re out there on their own time doing this work and they’re not trained in trail design and construction like many of us here as professionals.
So we found the FSTAG to be very user friendly and that there was also this separate document that was a helpful process overview to help them through this process to make really good sound decisions that could be documented through the process.
We also found that the FSTAG, in comparison, is more detailed and it includes actually 32 definitions related to the trail and trail environments rather than three terms related to trails in the proposed current guidelines.
The FSTAG also utilizes the definitions for alteration and for maintenance taken from the original Reg Neg Committee in the 1999 draft and those are very clear and applicable to the trails themselves.
In fact, one additional comment regarding the proposed Access Board guidelines with this respect is that new guidelines have added the definition for alteration that applies to buildings but does not fit for trails at all.
Our other concerns for the guidelines are that the proposed Access Board guidelines, there is no exception provided for protruding objects below 80 inches in height when they occur on a trail where placing a warning barrier would block passage down the trail. These guidelines also use the international symbol of accessibility, the wheelchair symbol, in the various proposed trail signs.
We believe that the use of this symbol will lead the public to expect and assume a standard that may not be there with the allowable grades that go to 12 ½%. It would be far better, in our opinion, to provide information that is useful to all trail users, regardless of their ability, in determining which trail best meets their skills, including maximum grade, cross slope, minimum width and so forth. In this case, we really encourage the adoption of the UTAP standards for providing that information to individuals and users.
The proposed Access Board guidelines have also rewritten the second general exception, and it no longer states that the Reg Neg Committee what the Regulatory Negotiation Committee intended. As it currently appears, it implies that only 15% of the length of the trail ever needs to be accessible, which is unfortunately not correct. So the board must get back to the original reg neg language for that exception and we encourage that.
On the Appalachian Trail and even the CDT, we feel that increasing access to these trails is an important consideration and also the right thing to do.
But that decision must also be balanced with the nature and character of the environments that these trails traverse.
In any situation, when addressing trail design issues, there are a myriad of considerations to address. In the process of addressing those concerns, of which accessibility is one of them, along with user patterns, resource damage, environmental concerns, natural heritage sites, you must always let the land dictate what will fit best.
Because ultimately it is the land that people are coming to see and it is the land that should always win out in decisions regarding accessibility or any trail design project for that matter, to the extent that sometimes we shouldn’t build a trail at all. We should not be changing the setting of the area we are visiting in order to accommodate any trail project or decision or goal, but in those cases where we do decide to proceed with a trail accessible project, we should make sure that those fit naturally into those environments.
The point is, too, that we can always make trails more accessible because accessible design is simply sound trail design, and on the AT and CDT in our new projects we are, in fact, applying that process. But just because it might be possible that is, one could meet the accessibility guidelines that doesn’t mean that always someone should.
The conditions for departing from the guidelines must fully must be fully valued, and as a result, there will be those trails where it does not apply, is the most appropriate decision. But every trail is unique and must be viewed as such, therefore. At the same time, trail partners and managers can now consider opportunities for accessibility, where possible and appropriate, to increase the level of access of the trail, while ensuring the protection of the trail experience.
To that end, in fact, at ATC they developed a design guide to help managers address these access issues and make decisions regarding accessibility.
This design guide also guides managers through the process in a way that encourages increased development of opportunities for all people to use the Appalachian National Scenic Trail but at the same time, to protect the primitive and remote nature that the AT provides.
And I have a few slides to share with you, if that’s okay or…
PHILIP PEARCE (BOARD MEMBER): Be pretty quick.
TERESA MARTINEZ: Okay. Well, I’ll pass then. It’s unfortunate because we do have a lot of examples where it shows basically when you are dealing with a trail environment, once you’ve addressed things like use patterns, resource damage and those kind of issues, accessibility actually naturally fits well into those design parameters.
However, again, it goes back to that issue of whether or not you could or should you, and ultimately I just want to close with the idea that when it comes to a trail experience, you should always allow the land to dictate what is the highest quality recreational experience you can provide, and when you do that, I think everything else will fall naturally into place.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to share our experience and our thoughts regarding this important topic and we look forward to an even more great opportunities to apply these guidelines and to help them evolve to a strong working standard in the future. Thank you.
PHILIP PEARCE: Thank you. Before you leave, does anybody have a question for Teresa?
Okay. I’ve got a really quick question for you.
TERESA MARTINEZ: Sure.
PHILIP PEARCE: The way that you’ve laid your proposal out, do you think it opens the door, though, for people to determine that the land dictates that there’s never an opportunity for accessibility? Because that’s what I’m hearing is that depending, depending on the person that’s making those determinations, it’s kind of interpreting what the land is dictating. Isn’t there the opportunity that we’ll never have anything accessible?
TERESA MARTINEZ: I would hope not. I think each individual is different. And I know that a lot of that comes from education of the trail partners and managers and that the best thing we can do in this environment, in this field, is to encourage people to not take that tack, which is, you know, people are people, humans are humans. You can’t control that. But I think that with something like for example, with the leadership that the Appalachian Trail has established, where you educate People First and then you watch how you can apply these standards, you realize it’s not that hard. It really isn’t. And so when you when you have that opportunity to reflect that experience, I think that other people a lot of it just education. They’re so fearful, and you have to break down those that education information. And just as an aside, one of the things we found, that the largest barrier to people using the Appalachian Trail was actually the lack of information about the Appalachian Trail, and therefore, when people go through and apply the standards to the existing pieces of the AT, and imagine even the CDT, you find that a lot more places are accessible and that helps that real time based experience, you’re able to say, “Oh, okay, this isn’t so bad.” And I think that’s the best you can do. There’s no right answer to that. I apologize.
PHILIP PEARCE: Sure. I understand.
TERESA MARTINEZ: Thank you.
PHILIP PEARCE: Thank you very much, Teresa, appreciate it.
TERESA MARTINEZ: Uh huh.
[Additional remarks made after all registered speakers concluded their testimony.]
TERESA MARTINEZ: Well, what I wanted to do was share with you just some of the pictures from the AT where we have actually applied these the Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines to give you an idea that and sort of address this concern that, you know, whether or not we’re going to use these exceptions as a practice or actually really apply these, and I think sometimes we underestimate the power of a really good project and how that makes sets an example for how things can be accomplished and how things can be done and so I just want to roll through this. For those of us who aren’t familiar with the Appalachian Trail, this is a picture of the Appalachian Trail right here. You can tell it’s a very primitive remote back country, grassy area. This is very typical southwestern Virginia right near Marian, Virginia. But this is also the Appalachian Trail and the Appalachian Trail is uniquely known for some steep assents, straight up ridgelines where we’re still having to go back and reconstruct and (inaudible) user issues where we’re installing things such as these to be able to these are actually they look like steps. They’re actually check steps to actually collect soil as the water runs down these steep grades. Water fills in behind, adds some soil and then we’re able to build back up a tread where this actually used to be a gully, and so we’re actually applying some resource damage issue dealing with resource damage. So these are one of our ways of dealing with that, and this is on an existing section of trail. This is not a new section of trail. But these are also the environments. Appalachian Trail and when you apply these standards, thinking about this nature of and character of this setting is very critical. And getting to this site, it’s two miles from the nearest road, through Rocky terrain, that is similar to this, and, yes, there are ways we can accommodate accessibility and make the trail more accessible than before, and we are very interested and earnest in applying those standards to do that. But ultimately, the resource itself, the land itself, is going to dictate what is applicable in this setting.
But this is also the Appalachian Trail, and this is falls river, Connecticut and this is the site of an old historic horse racing park right along the river and this is an accessible this is from the first sections of the AT that was accessible, built to the standards in the original 1999 Reg Neg Committee put out, and the reason we did this was because once we dealt with the user issues in this area, the historic nature of the setting, accessibility naturally fit into this setting and it’s the same experience, regardless of your ability, that you have on this section of trail, that you have regardless of your ability.
So this is the perfect example where accessibility naturally fits into the environment and it fits into the experience of the Appalachian Trail without changing the character of the setting.
This is also the Appalachian Trail, believe it or not. This is connecting across the a river in boiling springs, Pennsylvania and on either side of that is an accessible boardwalk that goes for two miles on either side that you can actually access with an accessible trailhead parking lot but these are all the conditions in the environment that we work with the AT and so when possible, we try to mirror the environment with the experience as much as possible.
This is a recent section that we just completed on a project we call the Osborn Farm in Tennessee. This is the Appalachian Trail as well. And this is a huge open field that gives you expansive views. Here are the views from the trail, looking up towards Mount Rodgers National Recreation Area. And we went to this side we actually went through to the Forest Service and said, “We think this is a great candidate for accessibility” and the Forest Service told us, “Utah we don’t know if you really want to do that.” And we actually said, “No, I think we can and I think we should, because for the sustainable design of this trail section through this area, we’re going to have to build it and we’re going to have to excavate and add some geotextile fabrics and everything else and while we’re at it, why don’t we go ahead and increase the width a little bit and it’s not going to alter the character or the setting of the trail and the experience of this whole half mile to half section of trail.” So this gave us an opportunity to applies those standards and actually create a great opportunity for folks. But this is also the conditions of the Appalachian Trail, and in this case, at bear mountain state park, we actually designed a trail section that we attempted to create an accessible trail through this area. With Peter Jensen, one of the leading trail designers out there. And after two weeks of walking all over this mountain, we just couldn’t do it.
But what we did say is if we can’t reach that accessible design, we’re going to make this as accessible as possible, even though we know at the end we’re going to be kicked out due to all these general exceptions. We went ahead and increased our technical experience our techniques and did stuff that we normally wouldn’t do on the Appalachian Trail. Mostly also because this is right near New York. It has it’s 40 minutes from New York City and people can take a train from New York City to the Appalachian Trail. And so we get a lot of folks who don’t know where they’re going, don’t even know that it’s the AT. They just want to get up to the summit of bear mountain so they were walking all over this ridgeline anyways. And so once we started dealing with the fact that people wanted to hike five people across and everything else, it seemed that we had to deal with that issue. And then this is the finished project of that process of that trail. It still fits naturally into the environment. We’re still dealing with our user patterns, resource protection, but it also happens to be more accessible. It does not meet the standards just based on terrain and everything else, but we attempted, even though we did as much as we could without without the terrain. We did as much as we could with the terrain allowing us to do.
And, again, this is in that same section. We just have places where we had to put in steps. There was no other choices. But those steps meet the rise and run technical provisions for steps. So if you had to use them, you could.
And then this is a recent section of the trail that we’re in the process of building, an accessible blue blaze trail to a cemetery that is also the home of George Paris, who is one of the revolutionary war heroes and also the namesake of Parisburg, Virginia, one of our trail towns. And we’re actually developing this as a two mile when it’s all complete, it will be a round trip area that people can access, one either through the accessible trail that’s a blue blaze through the site or through the AT, and it will also match some walkable community for the town itself. It’s accessible for the U.S., it’s right off the road, we’ll have a great trailhead parking, as well as a lot of interpretive features there. So these are things that we’re doing and I think that when at all possible, we’re attempting to apply these standards in a way that is fitting to the nature and character of the trails that we manage. But as a user myself, I find that they are definitely not that hard to deal with, but I find that it’s a very rewarding experience to have those places where you can increase those opportunities and have for all abilities, regardless of the individual, and I just appreciate the time to share these with you.