By Ashley Olson ~
My father was killed in the same car accident that paralyzed me when I was fourteen. He was a great man and a wonderful father. He was also a ranger and taught me a lot about nature. It was his dream to see all the US National Parks but he only made it to a handful of them.
In honor of my father and the 25th Anniversary of the American’s with Disabilities Act, wheelchairtraveling.com is launching the 501C3 Access to Parks Project this May. The mission of the project is to make it easier for people with limited mobility to plan a trip to a National park based on their accessibility needs. We will also help each park selected update their access information (and maybe suggest some improvement). To better serve visitors with accessibility needs, we will document the length and grade of trails, trail surfaces, the locations of accessible restrooms and much more. Such details address the basic needs and concerns of people with limited mobility, thereby enabling them to make informed decisions about what parks to visit.
Park evaluations are based on the access conditions that currently exist and are not a determination of compliance with any access regulations. Cooperation and support from the corresponding NPS representative to create a sustainable model is also a part of this mission.
Fifteen National Parks have been selected to catapult the Access to Parks Project into action, although this is merely the beginning. More access reviews at the national, state and local parks level will be included. In May, 2015, wheelchairtraveling.com will embark on a two-week journey from Atlanta, GA, to Cleveland, OH, to visit, evaluate and promote access at three National Parks: Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, Shenandoah in Virginia, and Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio; some state parks are also planned for review along the route.
Nearly everyone enjoys spending time in the outdoors. Nature revives and grounds us all. I can vividly recall camping and day-trips in the outdoors with my family when I was a child (before the accident) and the joys of exploring. From those days forward, the thrill of traveling has always been a part of me. I didn’t know it at the time, but my parents gave me a very precious gift, a profound respect and admiration for nature.
When I started wheelchairtaveling.com in 2006, supplying information about accessible trails into the outdoors was one of my goals. Plus, I was generally curious as to what I could access in nature from my wheelchair.
After researching and documenting access at parks for several years, I’ve noticed that some parks have detailed information on accessibility for visitors while others have none at all. A good number of our nation’s parks have accessible features, but due to limited resources, some of these have been unable to provide basic planning information for visitors with limited mobility. These are the parks being targeted.
To date, I’ve been to over a dozen National Parks and countless state parks that were able to provide enough information where I felt the visit was worth my effort, time and money. Reviews of these parks are already on wheelchairtraveling.com.
John Muir, a conservationist who dedicated his life to the preservation of these national spaces once said, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” I believe that having access to the outdoors is more than just another opportunity; it’s like air itself – a necessity for our growth as people and for our love of nature.
Please support the Access to Parks Project. Your tax-deductible donation will help fund our transportation, food and accommodations. To donate or become a sponsor, go to http://www.wheelchairtraveling.com/donate. For more information, please contact Ashley Olson, CEO of wheelchairtraveling.com, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Access to Parks Project is a 501C3, which is made possible by wheelchairtraveling.com’s fiscal sponsor, Access Northern California]