What is a Trail? What is an Accessible Trail?


by John McGovern | Posted on August 26, 2013

Trails across the United States help connect people to nature, inspire healthy activities, and by their very nature, help protect natural places - making communities more livable and connected.    


Recently there has been a lot of chatter about accessible trails and coming regulations. Maybe you’ve heard about it, maybe you haven’t. Either way, since we all strive to ensure all people have access to the benefits of parks and recreation, like trails, it is critically important to be aware of what is currently in place around trails accessibility and what’s to come in the next few years.   


Accessibility expert, John McGovern, J.D., authors this two-part blog series on accessible trails. In this first part, he clears up the confusion about what is currently a requirement at this point in time.  In part two, he’ll explore the evolving requirements and what you need to know.  


There has been a lot of discussion about what makes a trail accessible for people with disabilities.  Unfortunately, there is not today a final and enforceable standard for trails.   

However, there is a lot of guidance.  


It is important to note that States, cities, counties, and other jurisdictions may adopt an access requirement that is not yet in a final and enforceable federal Standard.   


Become familiar with current ADA standards and coming regulations as it relates to trails


Has your state done so?  If so, you already have a requirement to meet.


In addition some funders, such as Department of Transportation, may impose requirements when awarding grants and these requirements may not yet be in a design Standard. 


Evaluating compliance? Ask these questions.   


It is difficult to find a word that is neutral in discussing common recreation elements such as trails.  We will use the word “path” as a catch-all that can include sidewalks, trails, accessible routes, shared use paths, and outdoor recreation accessible routes.   


When evaluating the compliance of a path, it is important to determine what type of path it is.   


Ask these questions regarding the path:  


1. Where is the path located?  


2. Is it meant for transportation or for recreation?  


3. For what types of activities is the path designed and intended to have occur?  


Once these questions are answered and you know what type of path you are evaluating, then you can determine the accessibility guidelines for that particular type of path.  For this blog we’ll talk about accessible routes, which is the only path with currently enforceable requirements. 

The 2010 Standards for Accessible Design includes requirements for an accessible route. The requirements for an accessible route cover components such as walking surfaces, doors, ramps, curb ramps, elevators, and lifts.  Accessible routes are required in 206.2.1 to connect site arrival points to the accessible building or facility entrance.  They are also required by 206.2.2 to connect accessible buildings, facilities, elements, and spaces within that site.  It is important to note that while the 2010 Standards does include many recreation elements, it does not include trails or shared-use paths.  


All other types - shared use paths, trails, pedestrian access routes, and outdoor recreation accessible routes - have detailed design guidance, but that guidance is not yet an enforceable standard.  


In Part Two of this blog post, we’ll go into more detail about those coming standards, such as PROWAG (yes, we’ll explain what that is), guidelines for outdoor developed areas, and other guidance you may encounter as it relates to trails and recreation.  


What questions do you have about accessible routes? How about trails and accessibility? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below.   

You state...."They are also required by 206.2.2 to connect accessible buildings, facilities, elements, and spaces within that site. It is important to note that while the 2010 Standards does include many recreation elements, it does not include trails or shared-use paths."...So If I have a walking trail with several pedestrian bridges over several watercourses that start and end in open fields, it doesn't have to comply at all?......Thank You by Eugene D. Ninnie, P.E., AIA, LEED AP on 04/20/2014

Hello,I am the president of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and we have made a commitment to dramatically improve our ADA access for our buildings and more recently our trails.I am seeking assistance of where to find some of the best practices for outdoor trails that blend the natural landscape with the functionality of being fully accessible with little maintaince.I would appreciate any leads and some examples of the best ADA outdoors trails in America. The biggest question we are reviewing is what would be the best surface to use for low maintenance, asethics and functionality. I realize the base is the cornerstone for whatever surface would be selected.Many thanks,Jerry Regan by Jerry Regan on 08/07/2014

Hi Jerry,Here is a good example of a dog park trail system that meets ADA compliance: http://www.parksandrecreation.org/2013/November/Renewing-One-of-the-Nation-s-Largest-Public-Dog-Parks/ Although, we don't have a formal list of ADA outdoor trails, we do have an NRPA Connect group for members dedicated to inclusion and accessibility that might be able to answer your question (http://nrpaconnect.org/viewcommunities/groupdetails/?CommunityKey=005da954-726d-44c2-ab3b-ee25a1f64094) and NRPA also works with an accessibility consultant (http://www.parksandrecreation.org/2014/August/Embracing-ADA-Compliance/). Hope this helps! by Roxanne Sutton on 08/07/2014


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