AL TOLBERT: Good afternoon. My name is Al Tolbert, I'm executive director for Southern Indiana Center for Independent Living. We advocate for people with disabilities, OK, that's our primary mission.
My testimony today is in black and white there in front of you, but I'd like to start off by saying thank you for this time and opportunity to speak. But let me start off by saying one of the best kept secrets in Indiana is the Hoosier National Forest. Few Hoosiers know that a large part of southern Indiana, more than 200,000 acres, is controlled by the Forest Department, agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This forest and the area that it covers is an asset for all Hoosiers and is needed to be protected and maintained for the generations of people that will follow.
The cornerstone for the Hoosier National Forest has been the Hardin Ridge recreation area located off of state road 446 on Lake Monroe.
In the spring of 1996, the staff of Southern Indiana Center for Independent Living, SSIIL surveyed the national -- surveyed the Hardin Ridge recreation area. The survey was conducted to assist in developing recreation access areas for persons with disabilities. Most of the area within Hardin Ridge was not accessible. All the outhouses and the campgrounds were constructed back in the '70s using asbestos, asbestos materials, not accessible.
There were steps going into the outhouses and little rooms inside for wheelchairs. Because of the expense of removing the asbestos little could be done for remodeling these buildings. There was no access bathrooms in the entire recreation area. There was no way for you to access the lake with a boat for a person with a disability or use the beach house or the beach. The staff of sovereign Indiana Center for Independent Living made several suggestions to the staff on how to make the Hardin Ridge recreation area accessible.
Southern Indiana Center for Independent Living is delighted to report that major changes have been made in Hardin Ridge recreation area. The old outhouses are gone. Replaced with modern, up to date buildings that have walkways to the doors with large rooms for wheelchairs. Several of the campsites have bathrooms, accessible showers, there's a new beach house with a ramp to the beach, a new boat dock that has an accessible ramp for wheelchairs. For campers that can't afford campers, or can't sleep in a tent, they built two brand new accessible cabins. Persons with disabilities feel welcome to this recreation area. Hardin Ridge should be a model for the State of Indiana. See attached pictures, OK.
Southern Indiana Center for Independent Living would like to point out three problems in Hardin Ridge recreation area that needs to be worked. First, there's nothing on the Hardin Ridge recreation map that shows anything about accessibility. All this completed work and funding just to keep a secret.
Second, there's nothing on the webpage that shows accessibility in how a person with a disability would use Hardin Ridge recreation area.
Third, there's nothing about accessibility trails on Hardin Ridge. There are several campgrounds that have paved roads that could be marked and used for accessible hiking.
The staff of our agency would like the government, the National Forest Service to assist Hoosiers selling Indiana by showing the good things that they have done and put in place in Hardin Ridge recreation area. The staff for our agency conducted several surveys at the Hoosier National Forest at different sites. The National Forest Service conducted a small lake in northwest part of Jackson County called Sundance pool. They built accessible fishing docks with accessible walkways. This is a great place to take a family or for a day of fishing or camping, however, there's nothing on the website about this lake or the fact that it is accessible. The Indian tribes of Indiana use this lake or site for their annual powwow.
Our agency joined the staff of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in having access in many streams and lakes in the Hoosier national forest starting with Jackson County all the way down to the boat ramp and Leavenworth on the Ohio River. The staff found several Bobby ramps that were not marked on any maps, only individuals working for the government knew where they were located.
Another best kept secret funded by taxpayers. Good things about Bobby ramps, a person with a disability could use them as fishing docks. The ramps were built to access persons with disabilities getting into a boat.
The staff also surveyed the boat ramps on the Ohio River in New Albany, Tell City, Grandview, Newburgh, near Evansville, and a training film was made of those sites using individuals with disabilities showing the problems they have accessing the water. Only at Grandview was a ramp that could be used for loading into a boat from a wheelchair.
The National Forest has more than 266 miles of trails available at 28 sites for hiking, biking, and horse riding. There are no human being trails for persons with disabilities.
Those sites have maps of hiking trails that does not show anything about the surface for a person in a wheelchair, the slope or the type of the trail. Many of these trails have service roads that could be used by persons in wheelchairs or persons who had visual problems. There's nothing about accessibility on the five lakes in the forest, something some have accessible fishing piers. There's a billboard at the beginning of each of the trails that doesn't explain the surface of the trail or any way that trail can be used by a person with disabilities.
Many of the 28 sites have hard service roads that could be used by persons with disabilities or in a wheelchair or have a disability.
There are several roads in the Hoosier national forest that have no one living on them but are maintained by the county and state. These roads are required to get vehicles into utility sites and cemeteries that are still being used. Coordination between the state and the national forest and local government could make these roads with a little cost accessible for persons with disabilities. Great for hiking trails.
Many of the sites are not marked on the state map passed on by the Department of Natural Resources, DNR, therefore the public knows little or nothing about them. There is nothing on the website or on the maps that would encourage a person with a disability to use the Hoosier national forest. The invitation for the forest is for everybody, not just for the temporarily able bodied persons, individuals.
Several years ago when all the all-terrain vehicles became popular there was a strong movement to keep these vehicles out of the Hoosier national forest. The policy is off-the-road vehicles are not allowed in the Hoosier national forest. A four-wheeler, a four-wheel driven vehicle, or ORVs are confined to the existing roads that are open to the public. A person who could not walk and chose to drove his golf cart into the Hoosier national forest to visit one of the several cemeteries or just look for mushrooms could be jailed and given a large fine.
There is nothing in the rules or regulations that would provide exemption for persons with disabilities.
A survey of 9 Hoosier national forests will find that consumers are using ORVs and ATV’s in the forest. These vehicles can do a lot of damage in a short period of time. Because of the large area that is covered by the forest, the rules are hard, if not impossible, to enforce. The rules and regulations need to be reviewed to address the needs of Hoosiers that use the forest.
Indiana has developed off the road trails, ORVs and ATVs and the National Forest Service could use this as a model for these type of activities.
In summary, the staff and the consumers that are served by the southern Indiana service for independent living would first like to work with the National Forest Service to identify the recreation areas that are accessible in the Hoosier national forest and please -- and place them on some type of web page, map, or other information, passed out by the forest, including maps by DNR. Second, we'd like the National Forest Service to develop accessible trails in the forest. Third, we'd like to have the board work with the National Forest Service to provide exemptions to the rules for off-the-road vehicles and all-terrain vehicles for persons with disabilities so we can access the forest. Fourth, would like the Access Board to work with the National Forest Service to build off-the-road vehicles and ATV vehicles, trails that can be used by persons with disabilities.