Pella Chronicle

March 3, 2013

Handicap access allowed on trails

By Steve Woodhouse
The Chronicle

Pella — The majority of trails in the parks operated by Marion County and the US Army Corps of Engineers at Lake Red Rock are open to those who require medically-prescribed motorized carts.

Steve Edwards of Marion County Conservation is also Marion County's Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator. According to Edwards, the Department of Justice approved new rules on March 15, 2011, which allow certain “power-driven mobility devices (OPDMD)” to be used on trails by individuals with mobility disabilities. Assistant Operations Manager Josh Conrad, with the Corps, echoed this.

“We certainly don't restrict any,” Conrad said.

Under ADA Title II, the DOJ's ruling applies to state and local government lands. The ADA does not apply to federal lands, such as those controlled by the Corps.

OPDMD is defined as “any mobility device powered by batteries, fuel or other engines - whether or not designed primarily for use by individuals with mobility disabilities – that is used by individuals with mobility disabilities for the purpose of locomotion, including golf carts, Segways, ATV's or any mobility device designed to operate in areas without defined pedestrian routes, but that is not a wheelchair.” Anyone who has a mobility disability can use an OPDMD.

“This person may be asked to provide a 'credible assurance' that the mobility device is required because of the person's mobility,” Edwards said. “'Credible assurance' can be showing a valid, state-issued disability parking placard or card, or other state-issued proof of disability.”

If an individual lacks this assurance, he or she may say the device is being used due to a mobility disability. No one can be asked if he or she has a disability, nor can anyone be asked anything about a disability.

The Corps oversees the Volksweg Trail, which was built to be ADA compliant, as well as four earthen trails, located at Wallaschuck, North Overlook, Whitebreast and Howell Station. Medically-prescribed motorized devices are allowed on all of the Corps-operated trails.

“We currently allow OPDMD's, which must be operated at less than five miles per hour when in the presence of other trail users and at no time operated at greater than 10 miles per hour,” Edwards said of the trails overseen by Conservation. “All OPDMD's shall be operated in a safe and prudent manner.”

However, earthen trails controlled by Conservation are not open to OPDMD. Edwards said this is because the trails are not designed for them, and the restriction is to ensure the safety of the trail user and to prevent damage to natural and cultural resources.

According to Conrad, earthen trails operated by Corps get less use than the Volksweg Trail overall. He has seen some wheelchairs on these trails and has never had to respond to a report of someone getting stuck on them.

“We want people to get people out there, enjoying the trails,” Conrad said. He added that, to use a motorized vehicle on any trail, the vehicle must be medically prescribed. No mopeds, Segways, etc., are allowed.

“Our trail is not very wide,” Conrad said.

The DOJ performs an assessment of the trail system. Then, only approved OPDMD's may be used on the trail. People are not allowed to argue that they must use a certain vehicle, due to their specific disabilities.

“I believe structurally, the majority of the trails would be able to support motor vehicles, but they are not designed for motor vehicle traffic on a constant basis, but rather emergency and patrol vehicles on an infrequent basis,” Edwards said. Keeping motor vehicles off of designated “people power” trails is for safety. Some motor vehicles can be driven at high speeds and may pose dangers to people walking or biking.

“I think in general as resource managers, we need to try and meet the needs of physically challenged individuals whenever it is possible,” Edwards said.

Some of the older facilities controlled by the Corps are being retro-fitted to allow access for everyone. Conrad said the Corps is glad to do what it can to accommodate special needs. If you have questions regarding the Corps' special needs access areas or other issues related to trails, Conrad can be reached at 641-828-7522 extension 6421.