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The U.S. Forest Service recently announced national accessibility accomplishment awards highlighting three national winners in New Hampshire, Rocky Mountain, and South Dakota to recognize extraordinary efforts to integrate accessibility into national forests and grasslands facilities for visitors.
The agency’s accessibility work improves access to outdoor recreation for all, including for the 54 million people in the United States who have disabilities, the largest minority in the country. The Forest Service has more than 20,000 accessible recreation units, such as campsites and picnic areas, and more than 7,000 accessible recreation buildings.
In surveys, roughly 7% of national forest and grassland visitors self disclosed that at least one person in their group had a disability, which translates to roughly 14 million of the Forest Service’s 172 million recreation visitors each year.
Earlier this month, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell recognized three national winners and 18 national honorees in three categories:
Unit Accessibility Accomplishments: The employees of the White Mountain National Forest, where 92% of the recreational sites are accessible, are recognized for providing support to the overall goals of inclusion and integrating accessibility into the natural environment without altering the setting or experience. Whether at the Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, Jigger Johnson Campground, Pinkham Notch Visitors Center or along the Kancamagus Scenic Byway, White Mountain forest employees work to make every recreation site and facility accessible while maintaining New Hampshire’s natural setting.
Group/Team Accessibility Advancement Actions: The Intermountain Region Design Team is key to ensuring new and reconstructed facilities on the 12 national forests and grasslands in the five-state region (Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming) meet or exceed agency and federal standards for accessibility. The team integrates accessibility from the start of the design process. They provide accessibility training and information to the region and historic structure guidance nationally. In one year, the team was responsible for accessible design projects on 12 large recreation sites, three facilities, and a visitor center.
Individual Accessibility Commitment and Leadership: For any information related to accessibility, Darci Collins is described as the “go to” person on the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota. Her knowledge of accessibility and her ability to find practical ways to meet the guidelines are respected by Forest, contract, and Regional Office employees as well as by permit holders, partners, and cooperators. Collins’ dedication and energy have resulted in accessibility being integrated into the recreation sites, facilities, and all other areas of the forest.
In addition, 18 Unit, Group, and Individual National Honorees were named in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Tennessee, and Utah.
Since the enactment of the agency’s 1993 universal design policy, the highest accessibility standard of any federal agency, all new or altered Forest Service outdoor recreation facilities are required to comply with the provisions of the policy.
“The Forest Service is the only entity with legally mandated accessibility guidelines for developed outdoor recreation sites and so the agency exceeds the minimum requirements of the federal accessibility guidelines,” said Janet Zeller, the agency’s manager. “When accessibility is integrated into a project from the beginning there is little or no additional expense.”
The Forest Service Outdoor Recreation Accessibility Guidelines and the Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines are available free online. Read about the honorees at this link.