The Southwestern Region of the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, commends you for the time and effort that went into the development of the Proposed Rule for Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas and appreciates the opportunity to comment.
The Southwestern Region includes 11 national forests in Arizona and New Mexico and 3 national grasslands in Oklahoma and Texas, comprising over 20 million acres with elevations ranging from 3000 feet to over 13,000 feet. It contains 51 congressionally designated wildernesses, over 600 camping areas, and over 133,000 miles of trail, including the long-distance Continental Divide National Scenic Trail.
We strongly support the need for accessibility guidelines that specifically address outdoor developed areas in order to maximize accessibility while protecting the natural resources and the unique qualities of the outdoor recreation environment. This is critical as people recreating on national forest lands are looking for a range of opportunities, from highly developed areas with all the creature comforts of home, to remote areas where there is little to no development and heavy reliance on survival skills.
Since 1993, the Forest Service has embraced universal design as agency policy, as illustrated in its publication, Universal Access to Outdoor Recreation: A Design Guide. From 1997 to 1999, the Forest Service served as a member of the Access Board’s Regulatory Negotiation Committee (RegNeg) on Outdoor Developed Areas and began using the resulting draft guidelines as they became available. While awaiting publication of the Access Board’s final guidelines, it became necessary for the Forest Service to develop its own accessibility guidelines. The basis for the Forest Service guidelines was the RegNeg draft guidelines, supplemented with a substantial amount of input, advice and expertise from trail partners and designers, accessibility specialists, landscape architects and engineers from within and outside the agency. The Forest Service has learned a great deal from this input and the application of the guidelines in actual projects and has made adjustments to its guidelines as needed.
We would like to share what we have learned from this experience and offer the enclosed response to the questions related to trails and outdoor recreation areas. Thank you for your consideration of our comments.
/s/ Abel M. Camarena (for)
Question 1: Are there other approaches the Board should consider
Southwestern Region Comment: No, the Regulatory Negotiation Committee conducted an exhaustive examination of all other reasonable approaches. The compliance by exceptions approach adopted by the Regulatory Negotiation Committee (Reg Neg) and utilized in the proposed guidelines is acceptable.
Question 2: The term “not feasible” is used in Condition 4… should the word “practicable” also be used in this condition?
Southwestern Region Comment: The term “feasible” is synonymous with “practicable,” so to add “practicable” to Condition 4 would be redundant. Additional guidance could be provided in an advisory note to address situations where full compliance would be reasonably do-able but not practicable. In these situations, the question to ask is, “Should it be done,” rather than “Can it be done?” This would help determine whether the investment of resources and modification to the natural environment necessary to comply with the guidelines are appropriate in a particular location or if a better, more accessible experience could be achieved by putting those resources elsewhere.
Question 3: What signage should be used on newly constructed trails that have applied the technical provisions of the trail accessibility guidelines?
Question 25: Some examples of proposed signs designating accessible trails are included in an advisory note. Comment is sought on these signs and other options.
Southwestern Region Comment: The responses to Questions 3 and 25 have been combined because both questions address signs on trails.
Every hiker needs to know what to expect before deciding to embark on a trail. Appropriate, objective information should be posted on newly constructed or altered trails or trail segments as well as at trailheads of trails that have been evaluated for accessibility. This information, which would be readily available due to the recent construction or evaluation, should include the trail name and number, typical and maximum trail grade, typical and maximum cross slope, typical and minimum tread width, surface type and firmness, and obstacles.
The posting of this information should only be required on new, altered, or evaluated trails that fall into Trail Class 4 and 5 under the federal Interagency Trail Data Standards (ITDS). Local trail managers should have the discretion to decide whether to post signs at trails that fall into Trail Classes 1, 2, and 3. The ITDS defines the trail classes as follows:
The U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service have all identified and are implementing the ITDS. The ITDS are also currently being developed by the Federal Geographic Data Committee as Federal Trail Data Standards. Because the proposed accessibility guidelines will apply to these federal agencies, the applicable ITDS concepts, terminology and definitions must be integrated into the Access Board’s final guidelines.
Even if the guidelines technical provisions were met when a trail was constructed, events may occur, such as wildfires, tree blow-downs and flooding, that may make the trail temporarily inaccessible until maintenance crews can clear the obstruction. To address these situations, signs posted at trailheads should also state that the information reflects the condition of the trail when it was constructed or evaluated and include the date of the construction or evaluation.
Where more extensive trail information is provided (e.g., an aerial map of the trail and related facilities), the location of specific trail features and obstacles that do not comply with the guidelines technical provisions should be identified and a profile of the trail grade should be included.
Use of the International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA) with or without the additional symbols illustrated in the advisory note is not appropriate on trails because this would not give hikers specific information about the conditions that would be encountered. Most people associate the ISA with pathways that are level or close to it, wide and with ample turning space like city sidewalks. There are numerous exceptions provided in the technical provisions for trails. As the result, some segments of the trail could meet the provisions while many would not. Nonetheless, this trail would still be in compliance with the technical provisions and the permitted exceptions. Posting the ISA on a trail, even in conjunction with other outdoor symbols and/or in various colors, would not let hikers know where or what provisions were met and if exceptions were invoked, and would likely lead to false expectations.
Question 4: The committee proposed that a beach access route be required where pedestrian routes are provided to or along the edge of a beach… under Section T205.2.3 Exception 6, beach access routes would not be required if the pedestrian route or boardwalk is elevated 6 inches or higher above the beach surface. The Board… requests comments on whether a higher threshold than 6 inches should be used.
Southwestern Region Comment: A higher threshold than 6 inches should be used. In order to provide sufficient access for people with disabilities, especially where lengthy elevated boardwalk systems are provided, a threshold of 12 inches should be used.
Question 5: The proposed rule requires beach access routes to be a minimum of 36 inches in width. Should this width be increased? When beach access routes are less than 60 inches in width, a passing space of 60 inches by 60 inches would be required every 200 feet. Should the passing space be larger? Should passing spaces be provided more frequently than every 200 feet?
Southwestern Region Comment: For beach access routes a minimum width of 36 inches with apassing space of 60 inches by 60 inches required every 200 feet is sufficient.
Question 6: The proposed rule requires beach access routes to extend to the water. The Board requests comments on whether beach access routes should connect managed elements and spaces often located on a beach…
Southwestern Region Comment: Beach access routes should extend to the managed elements and spaces located on a beach such as beach volleyball courts, first aid stations, beach rental equipment facilities, and concession stands. Access to these elements must be provided for everyone spending time at the beach.
Question 7: Height of a grill’s cooking surface is required to be 15 inches minimum to 34 inches maximum above the floor or ground surface. Is the 15 inch minimum too low? If so, what dimension should be used?
Southwestern Region Comment: The height requirement of 15 inches is not too low in order to address the full range of possible cooking surfaces. For example, the fire building level within a fire ring is required to be at no less than 9 inches above the ground level. If a camper wants to cook or make some coffee over the coals in the fire ring, the cooking surface cannot be higher than 15 inches above the ground level or the item being cooked won’t receive sufficient heat from the coals.
This requirement (T 308.3) allows a height from 15 inches up to 34 inches. That range of heights can easily accommodate the cooking surfaces needs for fire ring or for a pedestal grill. No change is necessary.
Question 8: The number of picnic tables, grills, benches, and other elements required to be accessible in this proposed rule is based on what is provided in an area… Does the term “area” need to be defined?
Southwestern Region Comment: Advisory T206.2.2 describes what is meant by “area.” This note should be retained in the final guidelines as it adequately explains what an area is without being overly restrictive. Therefore no additional definition is necessary.
Question 9: Should the advisory information on the degrees of firmness and stability be included in the guidelines?
Southwestern Region Comment: No, the advisory note is far too complicated. Instead include clear and simple definitions of firm and stable in the Definitions section of the guidelines.
The advisory note should not introduce the concept of moderately firm and stable because this could lead to confusion and a misapplication of when a surface less than firm and stable would be appropriate. The advisory note should also not discuss the appropriateness of measuring firmness and stability by the wheelchair penetration test. That test requires expensive equipment that would not be appropriate in all locations.
Question 10: Should the number of required accessible outdoor elements such as picnic tables, fire rings, and benches be increased from the scoping provisions in Chapter T2?
Southwestern Region Comment: Scoping for outdoor elements (e.g. picnic tables, benches, fire rings, pedestal grills, etc.) includes two aspects: 1) the element itself, and 2) access to the element. Because the proposed guidelines will at least initially apply only to the Federal agencies which are also under the Architectural Barriers Act, all new or reconstructed outdoor elements purchased or constructed by Federal agencies should be required to be accessible to the point that doesn’t negatively impact the character and experience of the natural outdoor setting. An accessible site furnishing such as a picnic table or fire ring has no more impact on the natural setting than a non-accessible picnic table or fire ring.
Where multiple elements are provided in an area, it would not be reasonable to require 100% of the elements to be connected by an outdoor recreation access route (ORAR) because of the existing terrain and other aspects of the natural environment. The proposed guidelines require 50% of the elements comply with the technical provisions. Of those required to be accessible, 40% must be connected by an ORAR. Overall, this would equate to 20% of the total number of a specific element provided in an area be connected by an ORAR (40% of 50% = 20%). For example, if 50 picnic tables were provided in an area, the proposed guidelines would require 25 meet the technical provisions; 10 of those 25 accessible tables would have to be connected by an ORAR.
The Southwestern Region recommends: 1) 100% of the elements provided in an area comply with the appropriate technical provision and, 2) a minimum of 20% of those elements be connected by an ORAR. This would result in the same number of elements being connected by an ORAR as the proposed guidelines (20%), but increases the number of accessible elements. In addition, requiring 100% of the tables and other elements to comply with the guidelines would provide maximum visitor choice and customer service. People with disabilities would be able to select any element for their use and not be limited to only those locations where the agency provided accessible elements.
Question 11: The 2004 Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines changed to the technical provisions for reach ranges. The low reach was changed from 9 inches to 15 inches minimum. Should the low reach for the fire building surface on fire rings be changed?
Southwestern Region Comment: No, the low reach for the fire building surface on fire rings should not be changed. It should remain at 9 inches. One of the functions of the fire ring is to disperse heat while the fire remains visible. The combination of sight and function as one sits by the campfire is a key camping experience. At the 9 inch fire building surface height, the sidewalls of the fire ring have to rise at least another 9 inches above that, to a minimum of 18” above the ground, in order to contain the burning firewood. At that height the fire is still visible from a seated position. Adding any more height to the walls would obstruct the fire and result in a substantial alteration to the camping experience for everyone.
Question 12: How should alteration and maintenance activities should be defined for picnic areas, campgrounds, and beaches, including outdoor recreation access and beach access routes?
Southwestern Region Comment: The ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines definition of alteration that appears in T104.4 (page 34099 of the Federal Register) is adequate for campgrounds, picnic areas, toilet buildings, etc. We recommend the phrase “…including but not limited to removal of debris and maintenance of a trail head structure…” be deleted. To clarify the differences between alteration and maintenance, particularly for trails, the following edits are recommended for inclusion in the final guidelines. These edits reflect how trail alteration and trail maintenance were addressed in the1999 Regulatory Negotiation committee’s final report and in the Notice of Proposed Rule Making:
Alteration of a recreation site, building, or facility: A change to a recreation site, building, or element or portion thereof that affects or could affect the usability of the recreation site, building, or element or portion thereof and that is addressed by the accessibility guidelines.
Trail Alteration: An action that changes the original purpose, intent, or design of the trail.
Trail maintenance: Maintenance is routine or periodic repair of trails or trail segments to restore them to the standards to which they were originally designed and built.
Question 13: Should there be different construction tolerances for the outdoor environment? If so, how should those tolerances be defined?
Southwestern Region Comment: No, the guidelines are designed to accommodate tolerances and are adequately written. Many provisions for trails and ORARs state the dimension (width, running slope, cross slope) as a minimum or maximum, which implies that a greater or lesser amount would be acceptable. For example, since the width of a trail or ORAR is 36 inches minimum, a designer may specify a greater width, but not one less than 36 inches. Slopes are likewise written with tolerances in mind (e.g. “running slope shall be 1:12 maximum”).
Question 14: Should elements located on trails that do not comply with the accessibility guidelines be required to be accessible?
Southwestern Region Comment: Yes. The proposed guidelines will at least initially apply only to the federal agencies which are under the Architectural Barriers Act. The ABA requires all facilities designed, built, altered, or leased with federal funds to be accessible. Further those agency partners or permit holders who construct elements on federal lands are required under federal agency regulations to comply with the same federal accessibility guidelines as the agency. Therefore all new or reconstructed outdoor elements on federal lands should be required to be accessible. Access to those elements is addressed under Question 21.
Question 15, 16, 17 and 18: The Southwestern Region is not commenting on these four questions pertaining to Beach Access Routes because we do not have any specific information to add to the discussion.
Question 19: Section T303.8 permits departure from the technical provisions for cross slope with open drainage structures. Are open drainage structures the only drainage structures where cross slopes up to 10 percent should be permitted? If not, what other areas should be identified?
The purpose of an open drainage structure is to quickly get water off the trail. The classic open drainage structure is a drainage dip (also known as a grade dip and a variety of other names); another example is a cross drain which is typically armored with flat stones to allow water to flow across the trail without eroding the trail treadway. These structures are the only area where a 10 percent slope should be permitted.
Question 20: Should exceptions from the technical provisions be permitted for outdoor recreation access routes (ORAR) based on the conditions in T302?
Question 21: The committee also discussed potential exceptions from the provisions for slope on an outdoor recreation access route… The committee considered two options. One option provided a maximum for the total length of the outdoor recreation access route that could exceed a 1:12 slope. The second option was to apply the use of the conditions in T302 to the technical provisions for the slope of an outdoor recreation access route. Comment is requested on this issue.
Southwestern Region Comment: We have combined Questions 20 and 21 into one response because both questions address an exception to the slope provision for ORARs.
Yes, exceptions from the technical provisions must be permitted for ORARs based on the conditions in T302. Facilities and constructed elements (picnic tables, grills, etc.) can meet the technical provisions regardless of where they are located on the ground. However, the natural environment can not always be modified to the extent necessary to comply with the slopes prescribed in the ORAR technical provisions.
The outdoor recreation access route (ORAR) technical provisions work well in most newly constructed campgrounds and picnic areas, where the agency has the opportunity to select the location for that developed recreation site. In older developed recreation areas to be altered, however, compliance with the slope provisions may not always be feasible or practicable without substantial modification (i.e. cuts and fills) that would not be sustainable over time. Therefore, we strongly recommend that an exception to T304.7.2 be permitted — in alterations only — if one of the conditions of T302 applies.
An example of where this exception would be important in this region is an existing fishing site on the Santa Fe National Forest (Santa Fe) that was being reconstructed. The site slopes steeply from the parking area down to the river. Improvements to be provided included a few parking spaces and a vault toilet. Environmental requirements dictated where the new toilet could be located. Because of the existing terrain, it was not possible to meet the slope provisions for the ORAR between the parking and where the toilet had to be located. Since the Santa Fe was following the then draft RegNeg guidelines which permitted no exception to the slope provision, it decided to delete the toilet. If an exception to the ORAR slope provision had been allowed, the toilet could have been installed and the public would have been better served.
Exceptions should be based on the conditions in T302 (option 2 in Question 21) rather than a maximum distance the ORAR can exceed 1:12 slope (option 1). Most ORARs are relatively short in length in developed recreation areas. Restricting the distance the slope that can exceed 1:12 to 10% - 15% of the length of the ORAR would not provide much flexibility or much distance to make up grade changes and to fit the ORAR to the ground. The conditions in T302 should be applicable to the technical provisions for the slope of an outdoor recreation access route.
The exception should state: “Where slopes cannot comply with T304.7 because any of the conditions in T302 applies, the requirements of T304.7 shall not apply.”
In addition, ORARs should not be required between facilities that are provided adjacent to trails. While the proposed guidelines are clear that the route from a trail to an adjacent facility is not required to comply with the ORAR technical provisions, the proposed guidelines do not address the route between the facilities themselves that are adjacent to trails. For example there is often a pit toilet and a shelter adjacent to a trail. The proposed guidelines would not require the route from the trail to the privy and the route from the trail to the shelter to meet the ORAR technical provisions. They do not address the route between the privy and the shelter. It would not be reasonable to require that route to meet the ORAR provisions. The final guidelines should direct that connecting routes between the facilities adjacent to trails should comply with the technical provisions for a trail not the provisions for an ORAR.
Question 22: Comment is sought on the appropriateness of these markers and the ability to determine those levels at most beaches.
Southwestern Region Comment: The high tide level for coastal beach, the mean river bed level for river beaches, and the normal recreation water level for lakes and reservoirs are comparable and reasonable locations at which to terminate permanent structures.
Question 23: The committee did not require a beach access route to extend beyond the high tide level, mean river bed level, or normal recreation water level. Comment is sought on what technical specifications should be required, if any, if an entity decides to provide the route into the water? Should the technical provisions for sloped entry into pools be applied in these cases?
Southwestern Region Comment: Technical provisions for sloped entry into pools would be appropriate only at highly developed beaches where there are concrete beach access routes. However, those beaches are rare in outdoor recreation environment. If an entity decides to provide a route into the water, then safety and maintenance must be considered. The route would need to be designed so that it does not become a tripping hazard to someone walking perpendicular to the route and would need to be able to withstand damage from waves and tides.
Question 24: Are there controls and operating mechanisms available for fireplaces that will meet the requirements of T407? If not, what modifications will allow for most operating mechanisms of woodstoves and fireplaces to meet this provision?
Southwestern Region Comment: At this time there are no mechanisms that meet the accessibility requirements for operating controls for wood stoves and fire places due to the weight of the materials used and the need to withstand vandalism.
In addition, because of the need to provide animal control in the design of hinged lids and other operating controls for trash, recycling, food storage, and other essential containers that attract large animals, a force greater than 5 pounds is often required to access these containers. An exception should be permitted for T 407 until controls and mechanisms that comply with the provision while meeting animal control requirements are readily available.
Question 26: The committee could not reach consensus on allowing a complete departure from this provision if the minimum overhead clearance could not be provided along a trail. What other options are available on trails...?
Southwestern Region Comment: An exception to complying with T322 Protruding Objects needs to be permitted where a condition of T302 prevents providing 80 inches of clearance and installing a warning barrier. This exception would allow a trail to pass under ledges or through caves without changing the character of the area or obstructing access along the trail.
While an underfoot tactile change has been suggested as an alternative to a barrier on the trail, such a change in the trail tread is not always possible or sustainable in remote areas, or where the trail goes through rock into caves and so forth.
Protruding object information along a trail is an example of the type of information that must be posted on signs at the beginning of the trail, on websites where that trail’s information is posted and so forth as discussed under Question 2. Protruding objects are another example of why use of the ISA would not provide basic, important information about the condition of the trail and situations that might be encountered.
Additional Comments by the Southwestern Region: