RAY BROOK — Adirondack Park Agency commissioners drew particular attention to American Disability Act rules during their regular meeting in January.
Senior Natural Resource Planner Kevin Prickett provided an overview of the federal law before introducing Carole Fraser, the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Universal Access coordinator.
Questions asked throughout the hour-plus discussion suggest the information may inform upcoming classification of the Boreas Tract where existing, well-made gravel roads provide ready access for wheelchairs.
“The law requires equal opportunity, but they don’t require exceptional opportunity,” Prickett said of the ADA’s writ.
Areas that do not allow motor vehicle access don’t have to make an exception for motor vehicles, he said, when such access “would change the purpose for which the area is used for.”
New York access guidelines are based on the U.S. Access Board’s guidelines to design and build “accessible routes” that provide passage from a parking area to a recreational site, such as a lean-to, a beach or a fishing dock that can be utilized with persons in a wheelchair.
Standards require a continuous unobstructed pathway with a firm, stable surface, and a grade never exceeding 10 percent. Accessible trails are built 36 inches wide, Prickett said of his research.
NOT A BUILDING CODE
Fraser provided further clarity on the role of American Disability Act legislation in park settings.
“The ADA is not a building code. It is civil rights legislation passed in 1990,” she said.
Society used to see people with disabilities as broken, she said.
“Today we see more integration in ... in our communities.”
A court settlement with three Adirondack complainants established DEC’s Universal Access program 16 years ago.
Accessibility also fosters easier use for children or people with visual or learning disabilities, and elders who may have trouble walking.
Recreational access is not just designed for people using wheelchairs or other types of motorized aids to stay mobile, she added.
But any new construction on state property requires accessibility, Fraser said.
And planning works to solve problems specific to each site.
“What we (DEC) found through the years is if that’s (accessibility) your goal, you’re going to achieve it.”
Policy revision in any ADA review is done on an individual basis, Fraser said.
The central questions look to answer whether the revision would “alter the nature of a service or experience provided,” which in the Adirondacks is access to nature and the outdoors.
Asked specifically about how the Federal Wilderness Act interacts with ADA, Fraser said the common practice is that ADA planning cannot fundamentally alter the experience of the wilderness by overdeveloping.
“The (Wilderness Act) does not say they are entitled to use their motorized access to get there,” Fraser said, “if a motor would change the fundamental nature of the program you’re providing.”
Scaroon Manor on Schroon Lake
APA Commissioner Karen Feldman, an attorney and instructor for the Wounded Warrior Adaptive Sports program, asked if a designated handicapped accessible trail has to be maintained for wheelchairs if it is a shared use trail with, for instance, horses and might be torn up.
Fraser said DEC couldn’t restrict uses on the state’s accessible recreation trails, but has used signage to try and draw horses away from section of trail used by wheelchairs.
She provided examples of wheelchair accessible paths and camping areas, including recreation areas at John Dillon Park in Long Lake; new construction at Scaroon Manor in Pottersville; and at Thirteenth Lake in Warren County.
Fred Monroe, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, who sits with APA’s board but does not have a vote, asked Fraser if the paved path along Schroon Lake at Scaroon Manor is still in place.
“There is nothing around the lake,” she said.
But then he looked to consequences of restricting access.
“Is there anything that you’re aware of in the ADA that restricts state and local governments from classifying a property in a way that removes it from accessible and makes it non accessible?” Monroe asked.
“I wouldn’t know the answer to that question, sorry,” Fraser answered.
At Scaroon, the state contracts with a horse and wagon driver to transport people into the trail and camping area to accomplish non-motorized access.
The state purchased the wagons, she said.
APA Chairman Craig Sherman asked specifically about the process of handicap self-designation, and if DEC requires proof of disability for motorized use.
“People don’t have to have any type of ID card or show proof, Fraser said.
But it is not a claim that is typically abused.
“I think there are more people who won’t self identify... because there is a stigma,” she said.
Fraser did not know how of miles of accessible trails DEC has in the Adirondack Park.
“We have one long distance trail. Dillon Park has five miles of trail,” she said, leaving the question largely unanswered.
Concern about access into Boreas was a frequent topic raised at APA public hearings over the past few months.
The comment period ended on Dec. 30.
But land-use classification discussion of Boreas will likely take place at the APA commissioners’ meetings in February and March.
A decision on state classification of the 21,000 acre area is expected in April.