House bill looks to improve accessibility on new trails in Vermont

By Ciara McEneany | Community News Service

Vermonters with disabilities could soon have an easier time on the trails if a new bill is passed.

The bill, H.85, would make 10% of each newly constructed trail on state lands accessible to individuals with physical disabilities. The same would apply to trails built using state funds.

Rep. Elizabeth Burrows, D/P-West Windsor, introduced the bill in the House Committee on Agriculture, Food Resiliency and Forestry in late January.

The idea for the bill came from Burrows’ experience advocating to make her local trail on Mt. Ascutney in Windsor County accessible to everyone. But regional planning commissioners did nothing, she said.

“I kept pushing harder and harder, and then I got elected to office,” Burrows said. “The first bill that I put in was creating accessible trails, either on state lands or using state funds, so that everybody can enjoy them.”

For Burrows, the bill is driven in part by her own personal struggles with inaccessible trails.

“I am a person who can’t get around very easily, and for all of my life I’ve had to adapt to pretending that I can get around on trails when, really, I’m not getting the same experience,” Burrows said. “Because I’m having to pay attention to where every footstep lands.”

Currently, there are no regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act for outdoor activities. The bill would use the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines — standards used by national parks — a feature recommended to Burrows by the New England ADA Center.

There are fewer than 10 state trails and lands in Vermont that are fully accessible to those with physical disabilities, Burrows said.

Nationally, a number of organizations are looking to make trails more accessible for everyone, including the nonprofit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which creates accessible multi-use public trails out of former railroad corridors.

“We often think of trails as these spaces where people can come together, work out and be healthy, and that is true for everybody, including those with disabilities,” said Yvonne Mwangi, trail resources and planning manager for Rails-to-Trails. “That’s why it’s important that trails are fully accessible.”

Another important part of this bill, for Burrows, is giving everyone access to the health benefits of the outdoors, especially those older in age.

“I learned in researching this bill that outdoor physical activity and outdoor exercise for people who are over 65 — who didn’t even start exercising until later in life — saves approximately $2,000 a year in medical costs,” said Burrows. “And so, I dug further in there and found that as a result outdoor exercise can help with diabetes, cardiovascular illnesses and mental health.”

Making it easier for people to experience benefits like that is the priority for both Burrows and reps from Rails-to-Trails.

“I think COVID showed us that we really needed these outdoor spaces. We need them more than we realize we do,” Mwangi said. “So that’s why it’s important that our parks, trails and outdoor spaces are accessible to everybody.”

The Community News Service is part of the Reporting and Documentary Storytelling Program at the University of Vermont.

Image courtesy of Public domain

7 thoughts on “House bill looks to improve accessibility on new trails in Vermont

  1. What always bothered me to no end was the never ending quest by the ecotopians in Vermont to completely close off public land access by motor vehicle in the name of saving the planet. Not everyone who enjoys the outdoors is fit and trim and cross country skis, snowshoes, or is capable of hiking. Yes they may be over weight or physically impaired but they have just as much right to view wildlife and appreciate all the forests as the rest of you/us. But THOSE people what to drive their dirty fossil fuel contrivances in the sacred forests….we can’t allow that! Here in Tennessee logging in the national forests and state owned lands is no problem as all, and (God forbid) pleasure driving is allowed.

  2. As someone that worked with disabled people for decades- I’ll say this is ridiculous.
    Disabled people fall, they are disabled!
    Ask anyone that cares for them, largely all you do is try to keep them safe.
    The thought really doesn’t occur to you to take them mountain climbing, they can’t navigate their own shower quite often.

    The writer admits she needs to be careful where every footstep lands.
    So tell me exactly how you’d make rocky rough trails through the state safe for people in such a medically fragile condition?
    If they are wet, they are very slippery.
    Boards get warped and they trip on them.
    Stones and rocks are unstable on the feet..
    Which trails get all this and which ones don’t?
    You just know it’s going to be racist to pick one and not the other one.
    How can this all be decided upon while being fair and equal?

    ANYONE can fall, nevermind disabled people.

    Then think about the liability of this.
    Do you really want to have medically fragile people out in the middle of nowhere on these trails?
    How will emergency services get them?
    Will you have handicapped porta-potties out there every mile for them?
    What else to do handicapped people need? (how long of a list should I write?)
    These people have a much greater chance of needing help/services than people not disabled.
    How does that all get paid for?
    Once you’ve said they are accessible to all these disabled people, that means you’ve taken some ownership of this. So when they fall, which they will, now the state gets sued.
    “The sign says it’s handicapped accessible!” and off goes a wheelchair bound person off into the muddy woods.. being pushed by their elderly partner..
    What could go wrong????
    I see one heck of an expensive boondoggle coming..

    Do these people ever really think?
    I mean seriously, what the hell..
    These are the ideas of crazy people.

    • Yeah next they will want to pave the trails and cut down trees so falling branches won’t interfere with the mobility restricted. Maybe a tow rope would be a great idea too. One thing VT excels in now is idiots in government.

      • Yeah no kidding.. this is why its not a good idea to even go down this road.
        You give them an inch and they take a mile.
        This happens Every.Single.Time.
        When will people wake up and see that this is but a technique!
        THIS is how they grow these Democrat Jobs programs..this is how they grow their base and grow the dependent welfare state.
        Let them fund raise to improve the trail systems For ALL.

        They will want a tow rope!
        They’ll say “Well we invested all this work in paving all these trails, now we need tow ropes, transgender porta-potties and cafe’s to buy latte and avacado toast, the people are starving!!”

        This show is soooo predictable when you really start seeing it for what it is.
        All they work to do is get that door cracked open and then out pours the clown show.

    • lol….might be a problem huh?

      There are off road wheel chairs that would allow people to do minor excursions in fields, etc….but like you say. When things go wrong, what are you going to do then? Even able bodied people are taught to let people know where they are going, when they are coming back when headed out to the wilderness, but people do what they want.

      3hrs for hypothermia to take you out……doesn’t take long. Can go much faster too.

  3. There are many trailhead parking areas that are jam packed on the weekends with no plans to expand them. Most of the trails accessed by these parking areas are too rough for anyone with a typical disability that affords them a parking tag to deal with. That wont stop this proposed law from segregating a portion of the already-inadequate parking for those with handicap tags, in order to make some legislators feel good about themselves. It wont make it any easier for someone with a legitimate disability to actually get to the trail or use it, but it WILL make an already problematic parking situation worse. Did the geniuses we elected to go top Montpelier consider this?
    If she really wants to make the trails themselves more accessible, that is certainly going to clash with conservationists who dont even want foot travel allowed in certain public lands in the interest of not bothering wildlife. Is she suggesting we pave a multi-switchbacked, ADA-sloped ramp to the top of Camel’s Hump? If she wants to promote more access to the outdoors, then providing more parking space would be the place to start.
    There was a suggestion in the Adirondacks a while back to allow hoofed animals to be used to carry packs on footpaths for those with physical disabilities. It went nowhere, for the obvious reason that hoofed animals would tear up the trails or necessitate they be seriously hardened. Is she suggesting that motorized vehicles be allowed for some individuals on existing footpaths? That would also spoil the experience for others. Unfortunately, for those who have physical limitations, some places will be off limits. I am the first one to admit that I will never set foot on the summit of Mt. Everest and I dont expect to be be allowed to be brought up there by helicopter or to have a cog railway installed there.
    Beware the unintended consequences of some progressive’s feel-good, virtue signaling brainstorm.

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