A Section of the Appalachian Trail Designed for Wheelchair Access Opens in Vermont

Thundering Falls Boardwalk on the Appalachian Trail near Killington, Vermont. Photo by rasudduth via Flickr.

On Saturday, September 13, a 900-foot long wheelchair accessible boardwalk and path along the Ottauquechee River in eastern Vermont was opened to the public. The really neat thing is that this new facility is part of the renowned Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT), which extends 2,175 miles through 14 states from Maine to Georgia. The AT is a unit of the National Park System.
The boardwalk extends over the Ottauquechee River flood plain near the small town of Killington (pop. 1,095) and not far from the famous ski resort of the same name. A gravel path that links to the boardwalk passes through woods and leads to the base of Thundering Falls, where a platform offers spectacular views of the falls and the floodplain.

This “new and improved” trail section was three years in the making. The venerable (established 1910) Green Mountain Club worked hard this summer to finish the project, which was conceptualized not as a wheelchair accessible facility per se, but as a relocation of the Thundering Brook Road stretch of the AT away from the road and into the scenic landscape.

The Ottauquechee River (pronounced AWT-ah-KWEE-chee), a 40-mile long tributary of the Connecticut River, is heavy on scenic quality. You might recall that this is the very same river that flows through Woodstock, Vermont, a famously picturesque community that is considered one of the prettiest small towns in America.

The new section of the AT is the first in Vermont to be designed for wheelchair accessibility. It is the fourth such segment, however, on the AT. The others designed for accessibility are located in Falls Village, Connecticut, at Pochuck Creek in Vernon, New Jersey, and at Osborne Farm near Shady Valley, Tennessee.

A fifth wheelchair accessible AT segment is under construction at Bear Mountain State Park near West Point, New York.

Facilities like these highlight the continuing progress in accessibility that has been made in the nearly two decades since passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a 1990 law designed to reduce – and, where possible, eliminate -- barriers to people with disabilities. Making more of the great outdoors (including national parks) accessible to people with disabilities is a key element of this nationwide push.

Comments

Hmm, very interesting. Kudos to the builders. Of course, I'm sure the pork-project folks will come along to poo-poo this project, but I think it's a nice idea.

I wonder if the real AT hikers appreciate having an even boardwalk for a portion of the trip?

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My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

So much for getting away from it all. Next they'll install people-movers so you don't really need to hike the trail. Walk left, stand right folks.

Merryland, remember that the newly constructed AT segment (boardwalk and path) replaced an AT segment that consisted of road surface (Thundering Brook Road). This new trail segment is a step toward nature, not away from it. Further, the segment was built across a floodplain, which made a boardwalk a logical choice and wheelchair access a sensible provision. There are plenty of other stretches of the 2,175-mile AT where you truly can get away from it all in the sense of wilderness experience.

I LOVE the wheel chair accessible parts of the AT. Totally awesome that they made another section, I can't wait to take my parents there. My parents are getting up there in age and my Dad is now offically handicapped. During his younger years, both of my parents hiked every inch of the AT over the course of 3 summers. They loved it an have only happy stories to tell about it. My parents still go camping with my family and I, although not roughing it in tents anymore, and it's awesome to be able to take my Dad to these few places where he can go back on the AT, even in his chair. It sparks lots of memories, funny stories, and family dicussions with all 3 generations of us. Merryland doesn't get it, for those who no longer have the option of hiking due to age, injury, and illness, these few spots are an amazing opportunity to relive a section of their past that they thought was lost forever or for some, an opportunity that they never had the chance to experience. My hat goes off to the Green Mountian Club for a job well done.

My point is that there are plenty of other places where you can build a boardwalk in the woods for people to enjoy. A bridge over or a tunnel under a major highway so hikers don't get run over -- sure... but heaven forbid if someone had to walk in some water in the floodplain. So we're going out of our way to build IN the floodplain now... Ya know, sometimes less is more.

As a disabled person who wants to keep hiking as I did when I was younger, I am thankful that Merryland's attitude is not shared by the masses. Wheelers (hikers using mobility devices) should be able to experience a few of the exceptional trail opportunities out there.

It's not an anti-disabled perspective that I'm attempting (albeit poorly) to express, it's a "stop trying to improve nature and stop spending money on something we'll just have to spend more maintenance money on later" perspective. Believe me, when I see people parking in handicap spots that have no right being there, I'm in their face (politely of course). It's just that NPS has limited funds, and never seems to have enough money to do what it needs to do, and now we're making it even harder for NPS to keep up. This is just one small example. When NPS and the public were debating overflights in the canyon, once again they tugged the heartstrings and brought up the poor disabled folk who would otherwise "never be able to see the canyon" as the argument for continuing the intrusive helicopter and airplane noise in one of the few places in the Lower 48 where you have some chance to experience complete silence. I'm sorry if my anti-improvements and anti-services stance just happens to make it more difficult for disabled folks to get around in the wilderness. But my point is that if you build it, it's no longer wilderness. Another example would be the WATER FOUNTAINS along the Bright Angel trail. Convenient, yes. Necessary, NO.

Merryland should try spending two days in a wheelchair. Just try getting in an out of the grocery store and over curbs in the local community. I spent the first 12 years of my life in one and now I am back in one unable to walk five feet due to weakness in my legs. It is really great to see the few areas where I and my fellow persons with disabilities can still enjoy things that the majority of persons take for granted. During the few years I was able to walk at all I did a large piece of Vermont's Long Trail as well as pieces of the AT in four out of the five New England states it passes through. An now I have to live the rest of my life (I'm only 54) knowing that I will never get the chance to do any of the AT in Massachusetts or most of the other states it passes through.

This comment was edited to remove a gratuitous attack. -- Ed.

I was looking on line for accessible trails and found a site where it says there are only about 3 miles of accessible miles out of the 2,178 miles of the Appalachian trail. Our son had the misfortune of being born disabled and has spent 17 years in a wheelchair. During the years my husband was in the military we lived in a variety of states and did a lot of exploring. Some places were accessible...some probably weren't overly accessible but we tried it out anyways. Was a bit rough on the wheelchair but we enjoyed it. We are taking our first vacation in almost 6 years and thought we would stop off at the part of the trail in TN that is accessible...it's .7 miles..so just over a mile round trip. How does that hurt all the able bodied people that can go wherever they want? They still have 2,175 miles to explore that we and our son will never be able to see. Maybe it's one of those "you have to be there" as in you have to be disabled or have a disabled family member to get a different perspective.

It is a shame that Maryland is still trying to compensate for some shortage done to hikers like him. I came on here to respond to his comments from the disabled propective, as my name implies, I have a stump for a leg due to an illness when I was 49. So I have a few years behind me and I have now been "disabled" for almost 10 years.

First, I wonder if he noticed the link near the bottom of this comment box, where I can disable the rich text. Will I only get to type short words? or use just a protion of the alloted space? NO, I should be allowed to use all the space like anyone else, and say whatever I wish to (if I can type and spell).

Next, accept the fact that the disabled are a part of OUR society, equally. We pay taxes, we work, and we wish to recreate like everyone else. That is what the 1991 American's with Disabilities Act promisies. Yet now in 2011, we are still waiting, what gives? In fact the UTAP, Universal Trail Assesment Program, designates what the conditions are on any trail so that hikers of all abilities can see their limitations, a novel approach that should be tried with some other opportunities.

Finally, with the H/C Parking, not all disabilities are visable, really, and who are we to judge. I spent time in a wheelchair and I hated it, the view was always the same, nothing but...butts. At least on a nice accessible trail (I can see clearly now the rain is gone), there are no obstacles in my way...

Now can anyone explain why I had to type in these two words? It fits me so well.
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