In search of smoother ground: District clears its trails of barriers in push to make parks ADA accessible

Sean Simonson on his off-road handcycle in St. Joseph's Hill Preserve in Los Gatos on April 28, 2021. Since his mountain biking injury in 2006, he has lobbied and worked with Midpeninsula Open Space District staff to assess and repair impediments to access. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

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In search of smoother ground: District clears its trails of barriers in push to make parks ADA accessible

Sean Simonson on his off-road handcycle in St. Joseph's Hill Preserve in Los Gatos on April 28, 2021. Since his mountain biking injury in 2006, he has lobbied and worked with Midpeninsula Open Space District staff to assess and repair impediments to access. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

When Santa Clara County resident Sean Simonson explores trails and open spaces in the Santa Cruz Mountains, he faces accessibility challenges that other bikers and hikers take for granted. Trail impediments might be easy to hop over or maneuver around, but not so on a recumbent tricycle or in a wheelchair, he said.

Simonson, 47, an athlete and newly retired emergency services manager, sustained a mountain biking injury in 2006 that caused him to become quadriplegic. The change in his mobility hasn't gotten in the way of enjoying the outdoors, but access to open spaces — even getting through the entrance gate — has proved to be limiting. Most entrances, guarded by stiles or logs to keep vehicles out, aren't wide enough for wheelchairs and other mobility-assisted devices. Trails and roads are narrow or often too steep and surfaces can be slippery or snag a chair's wheels.

The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, which manages more 65,000 acres in the greater Santa Cruz Mountains region, is working to change that. Over the past three years, district crews have been widening the stiles and gates at trailheads as part of its first steps in an ambitious 15-year plan to upgrade its 26 preserves in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

On April 14, staff presented the board of directors with its first progress update since the district approved its federally mandated ADA Self-Evaluation and Transition Plan in May 2019. The ADA's 1990 law requires public agencies to provide equal access to programs, services and activities. Midpen's plan, which identified 1,075 ADA barriers at its facilities, is the district's first update in 28 years.

So far, the district has removed 208 out of 554 barriers identified for upgrades within the first five years of the Transition Plan, Susanna Chan, district ADA coordinator and assistant general manager for project planning and delivery, said during the directors meeting.

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In addition to widening trailhead stiles, district crews also have upgraded restrooms at Windy Hill, Russian Ridge and Monte Bello preserves by replacing dilapidated, single-stall restrooms with new double-stall, ADA-compliant restrooms; installing an ADA-accessible parking spot; constructed accessible paths from the parking stalls to the restrooms; and adjusted door pressure at its buildings in high-usage areas. The district also purchased assisted listening devices for access to public meetings. In the coming months, Midpen is prioritizing upgrades to restrooms, parking, signage and path access at Daniels Nature Center, Skyline Ridge and Rancho San Antonio, Chan said.

"This is a significant accomplishment amid COVID, wildland fires and other disruptions," noted an April 14 general manager's report to the board.

The first round of projects are part of the district's five-year barrier-removal work outlined in its Transition Plan. This phase is focused on widening stiles and gates at trailheads, removing logs and upgrading restrooms, drinking fountains, parking lots and trailhead signage to inform users about a trail's distance, gradient and surface.

Smaller capital improvements that cost under $50,000 are set to be completed in one to 10 years; larger projects such as buildings, bridges and major trail building could take up to 15 years.

Lobbying for change

Sean Simonson, who has a mobility impairment, says access to open spaces — even getting through the entrance gate — has proved to be limiting. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Since his injury, Simonson has lobbied and worked with Midpen staff to assess and repair impediments to access. He did a "walk and roll" with staff on trails to look at sections that are hazardous to hikers and those using walking aids.

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"Of all the challenges, one stands out the most: the entrance and exit to open-space areas. Even to access fire roads and trails, there are gates, bollards and fencing that were put here to prohibit motorized vehicles years ago," Simonson said.

He most frequents the El Corte de Madera Creek Preserve and Sierra Azul's Mt. Umunhum and Lime Kiln/Kennedy trails. The trails had wheelchair-impassable stiles that were 30 inches wide, but the district has replaced them with 36-inch-wide stiles he can now use. Parts of the Kennedy trail were eroded; loose rock atop hard rock made the surface slippery, he said. The district has been responsive to addressing those issues, he said.

Bob Coomber, aka "Four Wheel Bob," an avid outdoorsman and former Livermore city council member, agreed.

Complications from Type 1 diabetes caused him to use a wheelchair, but Coomber, 66, has used his upper-body strength to hike in the wilderness with his wheels.

He says he isn't your average wheelchair hiker. He's made multiple attempts to cross the Inyo Forest's 11,845-foot Kearsarge Pass in the Sierra Nevada and hikes in other seemingly inaccessible places. Facing impediments, he's crawled and dragged his wheelchair across boulder-strewn terrain.

Most preserve and park trails aren't that challenging. "(They're) OK, but they're not for the casual wheelchair user who wants to get out to a place that is accessible but wild," he said.

Many trails are too narrow and uneven. Anyone in a power wheelchair would fall to the side because the chairs are too heavy, he said. Sections of trails are also banked to improve water runoff during rainstorms, but that can make them hazardous or unusable for wheelchairs.

Overgrowth around lakes and waterways also makes it hard to get around, he said. Some entrances are also too steep and rutty. Even usually wide and accessible fire roads can be too narrow. Some roads and trails also have deep gravel that mires wheels.

"It's like going into quicksand," he said.

'Of all the challenges, one stands out the most: the entrance and exit to open-space areas.'

-Sean Simonson, athlete

Coomber powers his way through by maneuvering his chair on two wheels — popping wheelies — but many people can't do that, he said. Wildlands and building an accessible trail are not mutually exclusive, he noted. The Independence Trail outside of Nevada City in the western Sierra Nevada — the first identified wheelchair-accessible wilderness trail in the country — offers hard-packed surfaces, bridges over the Yuba River and a nearly leveled, wide trail, he said.

He acknowledged there's a balance between making some trails accessible and not harming the environment. "Will resolving the issue to make it accessible make a better trail or ruin it for everyone?" he said.

The value of open space access for all should not be underestimated, he said. Open space is "a comforting kind of place" to listen to the wind, enjoy the greenery of majestic trees, colorful wildflower meadows and rushing water — a great asset for people who "spend 99% of the time indoors and the other 1% in the doctor's office," he said.

Leveraging progress

The entrance of Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District's latest trail extension at the Ravenswood Preserve in East Palo Alto on Aug. 11, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Midpen currently offers 11 "easy access trails" to accommodate seniors, families with strollers and people using assistive devices such as walkers and wheelchairs. Most easy access trails are at least 4 feet wide, have an incline generally not exceeding 5% and feature fairly uniform surfaces. Several proposed extensions to the trails are being considered. Bear Creek Redwoods and La Honda Creek preserves' master plans call for additional easy access trails, for example.

'Will resolving the issue to make it accessible make a better trail or ruin it for everyone?'

-Bob Coomber, avid outdoorsman

The district has added to its progress by leveraging capital improvement and maintenance projects to add ADA-access improvements. As part of its 2019 Ravenswood Bay Trail Project, which resurfaced 3,200 feet of trails, the board approved a contract change that resurfaced the entire levee trail surrounding Cooley Marsh as an easy access trail. Plans for the Deer Hollow Farm White Barn Rehabilitation Project currently under construction would add a new ADA-compliant drinking fountain and accessible path, according to the general manager's report.

For Simonson, the updates indicate a recognition that inclusion is no longer an afterthought.

As improvements make the open spaces more welcoming, he hopes they'll attract more people to enjoy the outdoors.

"I would love to see more folks with disabilities using open space areas. It's everything that I do. It is my connection with nature. It is what I did before I got my injury and what I planned to do forever. It's kind of like my religion, my church. I love going out there and exploring plants and animals and the views in the fresh air," he said.

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In search of smoother ground: District clears its trails of barriers in push to make parks ADA accessible

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Apr 30, 2021, 6:58 am

When Santa Clara County resident Sean Simonson explores trails and open spaces in the Santa Cruz Mountains, he faces accessibility challenges that other bikers and hikers take for granted. Trail impediments might be easy to hop over or maneuver around, but not so on a recumbent tricycle or in a wheelchair, he said.

Simonson, 47, an athlete and newly retired emergency services manager, sustained a mountain biking injury in 2006 that caused him to become quadriplegic. The change in his mobility hasn't gotten in the way of enjoying the outdoors, but access to open spaces — even getting through the entrance gate — has proved to be limiting. Most entrances, guarded by stiles or logs to keep vehicles out, aren't wide enough for wheelchairs and other mobility-assisted devices. Trails and roads are narrow or often too steep and surfaces can be slippery or snag a chair's wheels.

The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, which manages more 65,000 acres in the greater Santa Cruz Mountains region, is working to change that. Over the past three years, district crews have been widening the stiles and gates at trailheads as part of its first steps in an ambitious 15-year plan to upgrade its 26 preserves in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

On April 14, staff presented the board of directors with its first progress update since the district approved its federally mandated ADA Self-Evaluation and Transition Plan in May 2019. The ADA's 1990 law requires public agencies to provide equal access to programs, services and activities. Midpen's plan, which identified 1,075 ADA barriers at its facilities, is the district's first update in 28 years.

So far, the district has removed 208 out of 554 barriers identified for upgrades within the first five years of the Transition Plan, Susanna Chan, district ADA coordinator and assistant general manager for project planning and delivery, said during the directors meeting.

In addition to widening trailhead stiles, district crews also have upgraded restrooms at Windy Hill, Russian Ridge and Monte Bello preserves by replacing dilapidated, single-stall restrooms with new double-stall, ADA-compliant restrooms; installing an ADA-accessible parking spot; constructed accessible paths from the parking stalls to the restrooms; and adjusted door pressure at its buildings in high-usage areas. The district also purchased assisted listening devices for access to public meetings. In the coming months, Midpen is prioritizing upgrades to restrooms, parking, signage and path access at Daniels Nature Center, Skyline Ridge and Rancho San Antonio, Chan said.

"This is a significant accomplishment amid COVID, wildland fires and other disruptions," noted an April 14 general manager's report to the board.

The first round of projects are part of the district's five-year barrier-removal work outlined in its Transition Plan. This phase is focused on widening stiles and gates at trailheads, removing logs and upgrading restrooms, drinking fountains, parking lots and trailhead signage to inform users about a trail's distance, gradient and surface.

Smaller capital improvements that cost under $50,000 are set to be completed in one to 10 years; larger projects such as buildings, bridges and major trail building could take up to 15 years.

Since his injury, Simonson has lobbied and worked with Midpen staff to assess and repair impediments to access. He did a "walk and roll" with staff on trails to look at sections that are hazardous to hikers and those using walking aids.

"Of all the challenges, one stands out the most: the entrance and exit to open-space areas. Even to access fire roads and trails, there are gates, bollards and fencing that were put here to prohibit motorized vehicles years ago," Simonson said.

He most frequents the El Corte de Madera Creek Preserve and Sierra Azul's Mt. Umunhum and Lime Kiln/Kennedy trails. The trails had wheelchair-impassable stiles that were 30 inches wide, but the district has replaced them with 36-inch-wide stiles he can now use. Parts of the Kennedy trail were eroded; loose rock atop hard rock made the surface slippery, he said. The district has been responsive to addressing those issues, he said.

Bob Coomber, aka "Four Wheel Bob," an avid outdoorsman and former Livermore city council member, agreed.

Complications from Type 1 diabetes caused him to use a wheelchair, but Coomber, 66, has used his upper-body strength to hike in the wilderness with his wheels.

He says he isn't your average wheelchair hiker. He's made multiple attempts to cross the Inyo Forest's 11,845-foot Kearsarge Pass in the Sierra Nevada and hikes in other seemingly inaccessible places. Facing impediments, he's crawled and dragged his wheelchair across boulder-strewn terrain.

Most preserve and park trails aren't that challenging. "(They're) OK, but they're not for the casual wheelchair user who wants to get out to a place that is accessible but wild," he said.

Many trails are too narrow and uneven. Anyone in a power wheelchair would fall to the side because the chairs are too heavy, he said. Sections of trails are also banked to improve water runoff during rainstorms, but that can make them hazardous or unusable for wheelchairs.

Overgrowth around lakes and waterways also makes it hard to get around, he said. Some entrances are also too steep and rutty. Even usually wide and accessible fire roads can be too narrow. Some roads and trails also have deep gravel that mires wheels.

"It's like going into quicksand," he said.

Coomber powers his way through by maneuvering his chair on two wheels — popping wheelies — but many people can't do that, he said. Wildlands and building an accessible trail are not mutually exclusive, he noted. The Independence Trail outside of Nevada City in the western Sierra Nevada — the first identified wheelchair-accessible wilderness trail in the country — offers hard-packed surfaces, bridges over the Yuba River and a nearly leveled, wide trail, he said.

He acknowledged there's a balance between making some trails accessible and not harming the environment. "Will resolving the issue to make it accessible make a better trail or ruin it for everyone?" he said.

The value of open space access for all should not be underestimated, he said. Open space is "a comforting kind of place" to listen to the wind, enjoy the greenery of majestic trees, colorful wildflower meadows and rushing water — a great asset for people who "spend 99% of the time indoors and the other 1% in the doctor's office," he said.

Midpen currently offers 11 "easy access trails" to accommodate seniors, families with strollers and people using assistive devices such as walkers and wheelchairs. Most easy access trails are at least 4 feet wide, have an incline generally not exceeding 5% and feature fairly uniform surfaces. Several proposed extensions to the trails are being considered. Bear Creek Redwoods and La Honda Creek preserves' master plans call for additional easy access trails, for example.

The district has added to its progress by leveraging capital improvement and maintenance projects to add ADA-access improvements. As part of its 2019 Ravenswood Bay Trail Project, which resurfaced 3,200 feet of trails, the board approved a contract change that resurfaced the entire levee trail surrounding Cooley Marsh as an easy access trail. Plans for the Deer Hollow Farm White Barn Rehabilitation Project currently under construction would add a new ADA-compliant drinking fountain and accessible path, according to the general manager's report.

For Simonson, the updates indicate a recognition that inclusion is no longer an afterthought.

As improvements make the open spaces more welcoming, he hopes they'll attract more people to enjoy the outdoors.

"I would love to see more folks with disabilities using open space areas. It's everything that I do. It is my connection with nature. It is what I did before I got my injury and what I planned to do forever. It's kind of like my religion, my church. I love going out there and exploring plants and animals and the views in the fresh air," he said.

Comments

Yoriko
Registered user
University South
on Apr 30, 2021 at 8:00 am
Yoriko, University South
Registered user
on Apr 30, 2021 at 8:00 am

We try to make open space accessible! Glad you are out enjoying, Yoriko Kishimoto, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space


Citizen
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2021 at 8:14 am
Citizen, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 30, 2021 at 8:14 am

Cheers! Many efforts to improve accessibility for the more obviously disabled also improve accessibility for others with less visible disabilities & for families.

I appreciate this article in a town that is almost hostile to the disabled. Trying to get universal design principles incorporated @the high school in improvements, where it would even save money & make things nicer for everyone, were, I can only say, viciously rebuffed. Even people who like to consider themselves liberal were incensed at the idea that anything would have to be more than minimally “accessible” (which works out to young people in wheelchairs being unnecessarily segregated in daily life).

The housing the council pushed to be built in recent years here is not even accessible to visit, so important is density and stovepipe building to them. Try to suggest that the disabled should be remembered in inclusionary housing so that they can be part of Silicon Valley jobs and you are scorned as a secret NIMBY (huh? Wouldn’t the people who think the disabled should be included but just somewhere else be the NIMBYs?)

& don’t get me started on the abysmal sidewalks, which should be wide&clear enough for a walking person & someone in a motorized wheelchair to walk abreast. But no, that would interfere with the urban canyon vision of building right up to the street.

The worst was the pre-referendum Maybell development situation, where those who wanted the dense majority for-profit development before the referendum were so nasty about nimby name calling to sway others, they refused to listen to requests 4 the City to keep the orchard to extend the park, in a part of town the City acknowledges it needs more park space&has far fewer assets 4 youth than in the north, & just across the street from a longtime school&rehab site for the areas’ most disabled students.The Council had a right to keep not sell the parcel & could have for a song, but wanted to show those neighbors & develop it.




Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2021 at 9:33 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 30, 2021 at 9:33 am

I am all for upgrading trails and things for ADA use.

Some barriers, such as stiles, are more to keep farmed animals within a certain area as opposed to restricting access for humans. It is time to work out a system that will enable humans to pass but restrict animals from getting out of their spaces. Interesting conundrum but I expect the high tech boffins of Silicon Valley will make them work for stiles worldwide where it is important to keep sheep, cows and various other herds from wandering where they shouldn't.

Little Boy Blue, Come Blow your horn, The sheep in the meadow, The Cows in the Corn. Where is the Little Boy who looks after the sheep? He is under a haystack, fast asleep.


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