Charles Bean rolls down one of Eureka's waterfront trails.
Busy week? We get it. Here's what you might have missed from this week's cover story, "Slow Roll."
1. The thing most Humboldt folks say they love best about where we live is our wild places – the forests, beaches and trails. But this important resource is largely inaccessible to those in our community who are disabled. In our research, we found roughly 13 miles of trail for wheelchair users in our state parks, less than this in our national parks and about 20 miles between our three largest cities. There are also two beaches that meet the standards for the Americans with Disabilities Act, one of which has a beach wheelchair with special tires that can be checked out.
2. Information about how to find ADA-accessible facilities is hard to come by. Different jurisdictions may have their own maps, but these guides are often incomplete or outdated. A local advocacy group, Tri-County Independent Living, is working on putting together a complete list, but won't put the organization's name on it without verifying every single spot. “Sometimes the claim is that they are accessible but they technically don't meet the accessibility guidelines,” says Mary Bullwinkel, who is compiling the guide.
3. A prominent voice for the rights of the disabled on the North Coast is Charlie Bean, who uses a wheelchair. Bean is retired from a career with the U.S. Forest Service. Once very active (he used to wheel his manual chair from Eureka to Arcata via the Samoa Bridge), Bean now struggles to find local facilities to accommodate his needs. He says local government is far more responsive than it was in the 1980s, when he first began working on these issues. He often calls local officials to relay his concerns, and sits on several committees dedicated to improving local transportation and infrastructure. Still, he says that too often the projects go through without the outreach to the disabled community, resulting in gaps in service. “Stop looking at the chair, look at the people,” he says.
4. Bean and Bullwinkel both emphasize the need to consider ADA-accessibility when things are first built, which is easier than retrofitting existing trails or campsites. The struggle for many agencies is how to preserve the natural landscape while creating accessibility. Advocates say an ADA-accessible trail is just a better trail, and that the population is not a monolith. Varying grades and inclines can be included in a new trail, for example.
5. There are some bright spots on the horizon for disabled adventurers. Michael Muir, great-grandson of famous naturalist John Muir, will be visiting Redwood National Park on June 26, for the National Park Service's centennial celebration, and will offer carriage rides for people with mobility challenges. Muir, who uses a wheelchair, is a national advocate for access to the outdoors. The new Redwood Community Park, also known as the McKay Tract, may include an ADA trail, thanks to Bean's advocacy. The Chah-GAH-Cho trail is also being built in McKinleyville, with a smooth, wide path that can accommodate almost every level of mobility. And the in-progress Bay Trail may soon offer a smooth ride from Eureka to Arcata, meaning Bean could again make it to the Plaza for a night out, should he desire.