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Tweaking the Trails to Include Everyone
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Pat Dougherty steers his handcycle over the grass in Adam’s Gulch.
   
Monday, August 30, 2021
 

STORY BY AMY KOSIBA

PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Imagine being an adventurous, bubbly little boy who utilizes a wheelchair and you attend an outdoor explorer’s camp for the summer. You love to be outside and experience new and exciting things with friends.

One day at camp, the group activity is to go on a scavenger hunt adventure through the trails at Heagle Park by the river. All the other children wander off through the woods together, but you who uses a wheelchair is behind everyone else trying to find access points for your chair. Luckily the other children know what it is like to be excluded because of a disability and come back and help you get on the path. 

This happens at Higher Ground. There were many times when the group had to work together to help this little boy across rocks, or branches and there were plenty of paths he was not able to go down at all. If only the trails were maintained to be accessible for individuals of all abilities he would not have had to be left behind the group, and instead he could have been the leader of the scavenger hunt.

The Wood River Valley is the perfect place to live for any outdoor loving person because there are so many beautiful trails and lakes in the valley. Unfortunately, very few of those amazing trails and lakes are accessible for individuals with disabilities.

According to Trail Link and accessiblenature.info, there are only two wheelchair accessible trails in the Wood River Valley out of almost 50 trails in and around the valley. That means only .4% of trails are available to individuals who have disabilities. Imagine having only two trails to choose from instead of the vast array of trails that any able-bodied individual can go on.

Higher Ground is teaming up with the National Forest Foundation, Wood River Backcountry Trails, and the Wood River Trail Coalition to enhance Adams Gulch for adaptive trails. The Adams Gulch trail enhancement project is going to expand opportunities for adaptive recreation in the WRV. The trail will be enhanced by widening the stream crossings, heavy trail maintenance, and updating the trailhead parking and restroom area. The project in total will take around two years and cost a total of $475,000. This project will be funded through a funding agreement with the Forest Service and are able to offer dollar for dollar match for the first $50,000 raised. With a large grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson’s Foundation this project will be able to break ground on time. This trail enhancement project would give adaptive mountain bikers and individuals with disabilities more opportunities to explore the valley and do the activities they love.

It is so important to an individual’s well-being to have the ability and access to get outdoors and do the things they love. Accessible trails mean individuals with disabilities can be more independent. Higher Ground helps people with disabilities learn new ways to do the activities they love. Higher Ground’s partnership on the Adams Gulch trail enhancement project ensures that adaptive athletes will be able to access the trail with any adaptive gear they use. Pat Dougherty, an avid hand cyclist, counts on trail accessibility to be able to do what he loves.

“I’ve ridden trails since I was 15 years old and have always loved getting off the beaten path,” said Dougherty. “After my spinal cord injury, that path seemed much farther away! Programs like Higher Ground in Ketchum helped me get back on trails and learn different ways of riding trails. With my three-wheeled hand crank mountain bike I can ride into the woods with my wife and dog and experience what used to be just a dream.”

Individuals who do not have disabilities may take their mobility for granted or not even realize what individuals with disabilities must go through on a day-to-day basis. Every individual, whether they have a disability or not, should have access to the same places. Creating accessible trails in the Wood River Valley will not cause any negative impact on nature or the users of the trail. The main goal of creating more accessible trails is to ensure individuals of all abilities can enjoy the Wood River Valley as much as the rest of us. Trail accessibility is just one step into creating an inclusive community in the Wood River Valley.

PAT SPEAKS OUT:

The first thing you want back after a spinal cord injury is your independence! I’ve ridden trails since I was 15 years old and have always loved getting off the beaten path. After my spinal cord injury, that path seemed much farther away.

My front wheels are about 35” wide and require at least a 3-foot-wide trail. A lot of single-track trails are not that wide and to try and navigate them is what I call bushwhacking! Sometimes it’s possible, but other times what’s on the side of the trail is too solid, rocks, trees, etc.

Also, tipping over in a 3 wheeled bike requires what I call the 4-letter word: Help. If the trail is on a sidehill and you lean the wrong way than it’s possible to lose your balance and tip over. Most able-bodied riders tip over from time to time, but they just pick themselves and start again. When an adaptive rider falls over, it can require more than one able-bodied rider to help and get them back up and on the trail. It’s a big problem.

I’m not saying all trails should be wide and flat. In fact, my favorite trails include technical moves over rocks, hairpin switchbacks and steep climbs that challenge able-bodied riders too! I just want to ride trails and finding the ones that I can ride helps me feel independent.

 

 

 

             

 

 

 

 

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