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After several months of study and discussion, tonight (Monday) the City of Coeur d’Alene’s Parks and Recreation Commission will officially consider a consensus recommendation to retrofit a Tubbs Hill trail to accommodate wheelchair accessibility.

Last spring, the City Council separated Tubbs Hill from the McEuen Park project and formed a task force to take a comprehensive look at Tubbs Hill trails. The task force, which included representatives from the Tubbs Hill Foundation, KEA, and the disability community, met through the fall. At the final meeting in December, the group unanimously agreed to recommend that the existing east side trail become the first wheelchair-accessible trail on Tubbs Hill. Meanwhile, the task force also unanimously recommended that any further consideration of a new, north-side trail, be tabled until the east-side trail is completed.

Meanwhile, although routes across the north side of Tubbs Hill were also reviewed for feasibility, the task force decided to postpone any further consideration of the north side until the east side was completed. With feasibility less certain, with aesthetic concerns more acute, and with still-uncertain connections to the rest of the trail system and McEuen Park, the task force thought it more prudent to drop further consideration for the time being. Indeed, the work on the east side is likely to inform any future decision-making for the north side, and the City would do well to learn from the east side experience first before constructing something new.

The existing East Tubbs Trail originates at the parking lot on 10th street, follows the lake above the marina, and intersects the main trail. With relatively simple and inexpensive retrofits at several points along the way, the trail would be wheelchair accessible out to marker #14 or so. As able-bodied hikers already know, the trail provides excellent views of the Lake through a nice forest canopy.  As part of the project, surface smoothness, trail width, uphill and downhill slopes, cross-slopes and trail widths along the way would be constructed or reconstructed, if necessary, to accommodate accessibility standards. Based on a fairly detailed segment-by-segment feasibility review, and a site-visit last summer, it appears that the accommodation can be done with relatively minimal reconstruction and expense.

The Parks Board will take up the task force recommendation at its meeting tonight at 5:30 at the Coeur d’Alene Library and will forward a recommendation to the City Council.

 

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Tubbs Hill -- July 11, 2011. Photos by KEA BlackberryCam

More about all of this soon enough, but yesterday afternoon we were pleased to take part in a unique event. KEA has been invited to participate in a City of Coeur d’Alene committee reviewing accessibility and other issues on Tubbs Hill. Yesterday, the committee got a first hand experience with accessibility concerns on a brief field trip to the east side of the Hill — and three committee participants in wheelchairs took a first-ever trip to our City’s crown jewel.

Recall that concern over impacts to Tubbs Hill caused the City Council to remove Tubbs Hill from the concept plan for McEuen Park. The Council, however, insisted that the City continue to work with stakeholders on accessibility and management issues on Tubbs Hill. This new committee has met preliminarily a couple of times and has a great deal of work to do. This was the committee’s first fact-finding outing.

But yesterday, the scope of the work — and the reason for doing it — became much more clear and concrete.  On trails most of us have no trouble navigating, wheelchairs have a great deal of difficulty. Relatively gentle uphill slopes, downhill slopes, and cross-trail slopes make travel much more difficult in a wheelchair. The small outcroppings of rocks and tree roots that most of us simply step on or step over can be impassable obstructions to a wheelchair. It’ll be a serious challenge for the committee to find opportunities for access that eliminate the natural barriers of the terrain without damaging the hill or compromising its fiercely-protected natural state.

But Tubbs Hill is an extraordinary place — we saw walkers, joggers, swimmers, dogs, bratty teenagers, tourists, locals, and all manner of people enjoying the beautiful natural surroundings.  Yesterday, it included people in wheelchairs. And there was an appreciation that they belonged there as much as anyone.

 

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