From rugged coastline and salmon-filled rivers to the majestic peaks and valleys in between, Oregon offers endless opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors.
But not everyone can easily access parks and nature. Approximately 15 percent of Oregonians live with some type of disability, such as mobility and cognitive disabilities, according to the 2016 US Census Bureau's American Community Survey.
Connect with nature
To find nature education classes and volunteer events, visit oregonmetro.gov/calendar.
Metro is taking steps to ensure that people of all abilities feel welcome and safe in public spaces and enjoy access to programs and facilities. The Parks and Nature Department is working to develop and implement a transition plan that would bring parks into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“I think everybody should have access to the outdoors,” said Nicole Lewis, a senior regional planner at Metro who is leading the ADA transition plan. “It’s fundamental to the human experience to have that connection.”
“Compliance with ADA is just a starting place,” she said. “This is an opportunity to focus on diverse accessibility needs and envision a more inclusive experience for all park visitors throughout the planning and design process, beginning as early as site selection.”
As a first step, Metro hired consultants from WT Group to evaluate all of Metro’s park destinations for barriers to public access. “They went through everything with levels and tape measures,” Lewis said.
With data about needed improvements – from playground surfacing, parking and trails, to the height of grab bars in restrooms – a three-phased approach to achieve ADA-accessible hiking, picnicking and other outdoor programs across Metro’s public sites is under development. It could take 10 to 12 years to implement and cost at least $7 million.
Metro also formed a small advisory committee that includes people with disabilities and years of direct service advocacy work.
“Know before you go” was one theme echoed by community members and the committee. One of the greatest champions for this approach is Georgena Moran, project coordinator at Access Recreation. Access Recreation provides trail information, such as videos and photos that enable hikers of all abilities to decide for themselves if a trail or park will be a good experience for them. Moran, who uses a wheelchair, is also on Metro’s ADA transition plan advisory committee.
“Nothing for us without us,” she said. “It’s really cool that we were engaged and brought together at a point where we could actually give some really good input.”
Though the transition plan is not finalized, Moran is happy with what she has seen so far.
“Metro did a good job distributing focus across elements like playgrounds and shelters, which are nice to have, as well as essential elements like parking and restrooms,” she said.
The transition plan will take years to implement, though some accessibility improvements are already underway. Construction is scheduled to begin this fall on two universally accessible play areas linked by a quarter-mile trail at Oxbow Regional Park. One play area will have a sand and water theme while the other will offer nature-based skills and camping experience.
This is Metro’s first attempt at building an inclusive nature-based play area, said Rod Wojtanik, parks planning manager at Metro. “It improves the experience not only for those living with a disability but for all users,” he said.
Inclusivity is second nature to Lupine DeSnyder, a Metro volunteer coordinator.
“I don’t like isolation,” DeSnyder said. “In designing volunteer projects or events, we may have folks with vision impairment or mobility issues, but my goal is not to separate them from public programming. Every work day that I design, I make sure there are projects and possibilities for people with all skills.”
Metro staff is also revising informational materials and working to make more maps, photos and videos available online, which will help potential visitors make informed choices.
Lewis is encouraged to see Metro investing time and resources in this work. “We’re waking up fast and working to integrate this thinking across our planning and design process,” she said.