Making nature and wildlife available to everyone
An accessible nature trail is built for anyone in a wheelchair, pushing a baby stroller or anyone having mobility issues. A trail in a recreation area can be paved or made of concrete, wood or composite material. Trails can have finely packed stone or gravel, any material that creates a stable, firm and slip-resistant surface. An accessible trail is designed to help anyone with a disability to easily maneuver on walking trails and in parking lots.
I learned a lot about accessible nature trails at a recent webinar hosted by the American Bird Conservancy, a non-profit organization committed to conserving wild birds and their habitats. For the past 25 years they have worked to prevent the extinction of endangered birds. Another goal is to protect their habitat and reduce the major threats to birds.
Birding with access challenges
I learned to appreciate the obstacles of bird watching for anyone with mobility issues in the webinar “Birding with Access Challenges”. The ABC event was hosted by Freya McGregor. It featured Virginia Rose, a 62-year old retired teacher and active birder who has spent 48 years birding in a manual wheelchair.
As a paraplegic from her waist down she has strong arms. “I keep my hands on the wheels and can listen while wheeling, not walking.” She prefers a manual chair with a low back, no arms and tubeless tires. Birding in a chair has the advantage of being at eye-level with the bushes to spot birds below them. A steel elbow clamped onto her chair provides a clear view to stay in the scope line.
She can “pop a wheelie” to make the transition from grass to a sidewalk or maneuver through ruts or tree roots or any different surface levels.
She brings a purse/pouch she calls her Mary Poppins bag and a soft backpack for a compass, binoculars, trail maps, bird list and notebook.
Spotlight on accessible nature trails at Birdability
Rose enjoyed birding despite her mobility challenges and worked with her local Audubon society in Austin, Texas to create a website to rate local birding sites and trails. You’ll find accessible trails rated by birders with mobility issues at www.birdability.org. CNN featured Virginia Rose and we think you’ll enjoy hearing her in her own words in this story.
Know before you go and have reliable information
Today the internet makes it possible to know before you go to any recreational area or national park. You can choose a state park or wildlife refuge or wherever you like to go birding that has wheelchair-friendly trails and ADA accessible restrooms. Two sites: Rails-to-trails and the National Parks and Wildlife Refuges do a good job of helping you plan a visit. They publish the conditions of their trails, boardwalks, wetlands and greenways before you enter the visitors center.
The Rails-to-trails Conservancy
The Rails-to-trails Conservancy is a nonprofit organization that works with communities to preserve unused rail corridors by transforming them into rail trails within the United States. The trails are used for just about every kind of enjoyable outdoor activity. We found a list of Accessible Trails by state on their website. A state locator map pinpoints the name of location of trails.
Also at the website we found their 12 regional guidebooks for sale. We’ve used the Mid-Atlantic book for years to plan our visits to a trail. For example, the Mid-Atlantic book includes the multi-use trails in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Washington D. C. and West Virginia. In the guidebook the maps illustrate the trails with icons like a wheelchair for accessible trails. It’s helpful to see a map of the trails in an area with callouts for the location of accessible parking, drinking water and ADA compliant restroom.
Natural Wildlife Refuge System
Another good source for trail information is the Natural Wildlife Refuge System. Use their interactive map to find a refuge by typing in your Zip code and a list of those near you appears.
Below is an example of how much information is packed into a single download. See the Legend with icons such as a wheelchair that refers to accessible wildlife viewing and trails.
For more trail information: On the internet type “accessible nature trails” in a search engine to find locations. We notice a growing list of these areas without obstacles for anyone with mobility issues.
Are you a Bird Lover? If you are looking for remarkable limited edition prints, original artwork and books about birds, take a look at the work of Julie Zickefoose at her website www.juliezickefoose.com. We recently had the good fortune to meet Julie and share our enthusiasm for her expertise and artwork. If you read BWD magazine, the new Bird Watcher’s Digest, you’ll see the lovely cover art on the July/August 2022 edition is by Julie.
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Gene and Katie Hamilton are bird watchers who attend birding festivals and events and write about the wonders of the birding world. They are members of the Outdoor Writers Association of America.