WASHINGTON, April 23, 2013 – U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell today announced national accomplishment awards recognizing extraordinary efforts to integrate accessibility into national forests and grasslands facilities to better serve all visitors.
The Forest Service’s accessibility work on recreation facilities improves outdoor recreation opportunities for all, including for the 57 million people with disabilities, the largest minority in the country. The agency has more than 23,000 accessible recreation units, such as campsites and picnic areas, and 8,000 accessible recreation buildings.
“This work allows the Forest Service to provide high-quality, accessible recreational opportunities to millions of Americans, and supports the President’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative by connecting people around the country to the great outdoors,” said Arthur “Butch” Blazer, U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary For Natural Resources And Environment.
Making facilities more accessible to those with disabilities also supports visits by seniors, families with strollers or young children, and family groups.
“Our great outdoors offers something for everyone, of all ages and abilities,” Tidwell said. “The Forest Service has a long-standing commitment to integrating the highest accessibility standards into our new or updated facilities, which results in an improved overall experience for all visitors.”
“The Forest Service is the only entity with legally mandated accessibility guidelines for developed outdoor recreation sites and so the agency exceeds the minimum requirements of the federal accessibility guidelines,” said Janet Zeller, the agency’s National Accessibility Program manager. “When accessibility is integrated into a project from the beginning there is little or no additional expense.”
Tidwell recognized the following:
- Unit Accessibility Accomplishments: The National Forests of Florida – which includes Ocala, Osceola and Apalachicola national forests – have completed 25 construction projects that provide accessible facilities and recreation sites to better serve all visitors and employees. National Forests in Florida have made accessibility a priority goal for recreation and engineering by investing time, energy, and financial commitment to providing accessible facilities.
- Group/Team Accessibility Advancement Actions:
The Hood Canal Ranger District on the Olympic National Forest in Washington has created and improved accessibility at developed recreation facilities and administrative facilities. Recent projects improved accessibility on the Mount Townsend trailhead and the Coho Campground, which resulted in an increase of thousands of annual visitors.
- Individual Accessibility Commitment and Leadership: Awarded to Eric Sandeno, Eastern Region accessibility coordinator and recreation program manager on the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. He provides exemplary leadership and oversight and is quick to identify accessibility issues. Sandeno is regarded as an expert in the field of national accessibility projects.
*** In addition to the top awards, national honorees were named in the following categories:
- Unit Award: White Sulphur District on the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, and Pine Valley Recreation Area on the Dixie National Forest in Utah.
- ***Team Award: Spring Mountains National Recreation Area Capital Improvements Team in Nevada.
- Individual Award: Tammie Mather on the Cleveland National Forest in California.
Since the enactment of the agency’s 1993 universal design policy, the highest accessibility standard of any federal agency, all new or altered Forest Service outdoor recreation facilities are required to comply with the provisions of the policy.
In surveys, roughly 8 percent of national forest and grassland visitors self-disclosed that at least one person in their group had a disability, which translates to roughly 14 million of the 170 million recreation visitors to Forest Service lands.
The Forest Service Outdoor Recreation Accessibility Guidelines and the Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines are available free online.
The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $27 billion per year. The agency assists in the stewardship of 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 103 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.