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.