skip to main page content USDA Forest Service logoPrivacy | Legal
Forest Service Technology & Development logo
Technology &
Development Center

Table of Contents

Back | Next | Cover Page

Accessibility Guidebook for Outdoor Recreation and Trails

Applying the Forest Service Trails Accessibility Guidelines (Continued)

Using the General Exceptions in the FSTAG

Some public lands are reasonably well suited for hiking or pedestrian travel. Other public lands are rocky, soggy, excessively steep, or otherwise ill suited for foot traffic. Two general exceptions are provided in FSTAG section 7.1.2 to ensure that accessibility is provided where it will have the most benefit, be feasible, and provide a meaningful hiking opportunity. These general exceptions provide exemptions from the technical provisions for trails when environmental barriers are so severe or so numerous that a trail through an area can't be modified to meet the intent and objectives of an accessible hiking opportunity.

Where the general exceptions apply, the trail does not have to be accessible, except in two situations:

Illustration of a van parked at a trailhead and a trail winding quite a distance to a boulder field, where the trail becomes indistinct. Text indicates the trail must be accessible from the parking lot to the boulder field.
Figure 106—This trail section is over 500 feet
(152 meters) long and must be accessible.

Illustration of a car parked in a trailhead lot with a trail winding into the woods and past a waterfall. The trail becomes indistinct beyond the waterfall. Text indicates that the trail must be accessible from the parking lot to the waterfall.
Figure 107—There are no uncorrectable barriers between
the end of this trail and the waterfall, so this section
of the trail must be accessible.

Even if visitors can't use the entire trail, they should be able to enjoy a short hike—especially if it includes a prominent feature (figure 108).

Photo of several people, with and without disabilities, on a raised boardwalk beside an alpine lake.
Figure 108—All hikers can enjoy this
beautiful alpine lake.

A prominent feature is a natural, cultural, or historic feature along or adjacent to a trail that has national, regional, or local distinction or significance. It might be the focal point, main attraction, or destination of the trail or it may simply be an interesting secondary feature, such as a boulder outcrop, waterfall, grouping of old or unique trees, cultural or historic structure, a wildflower meadow, an area popular for wildlife viewing, or a vista.

Illustration of a hiker wearing a backpack approaching a section of trail where natural rock outcroppings create 13-inch (330 millimeter) and 33-inch (840 millimeter) vertical barriers in the route. Text indicates the height of the two barriers.
Figure 109—The 33-inch (840-millimeter) rock face is an
example of an extreme environmental barrier.

General Exception 1 addresses extreme environmental barriers (figure 109) that are effectively impassable and render the trail beyond unreachable for many people with mobility limitations. It only applies when there are one or more conditions for departure AND at least one of the following limiting factors:

Remember that sections at the ends of a trail must always be accessible if they lead to prominent features or are more than 500 feet (152 meters) long before the first uncorrectable environmental barrier.

General Exception 2 addresses trails with numerous environmental barriers that can't be eliminated, meaning that the trail would have no possibility of meeting the intent or objectives of an accessible hiking opportunity. Where one or more conditions for departure result in deviations from the technical provisions for more than 15 percent of the length of the trail, the trail is exempt from accessibility requirements. The percentage of trail affected by deviations is calculated by adding up the length of trail impacted by each deviation and dividing that distance by the total length of trail.

Consider the design for a new 1-mile- (1,600-meter-) long trail. Fifteen percent of 1 mile (1,600 meters) is 792 feet (240 meters). If all the lengths of trail where slope, width, or other requirements can't be met because of conditions for departure add up to more than 792 feet (240 meters) of trail, the technical provisions of FSTAG section 7.3 won't apply to most or all of the trail.

Remember that sections at the ends of a trail must always be accessible if they lead to prominent features or are more than 500 feet (152 meters) long before the first uncorrectable environmental barrier.

Some long-distance trails, such as the Continental Divide, Pacific Crest, Appalachian, or Florida National Scenic Trails, or the Nee-Me-Poo National Historic Trail, span many districts or forests. For these trails, only the length of trail planned for construction or alteration within the current planning period is considered when figuring the 15 percent, not the entire length of the trail. This principle applies even if the planning period is several years long. Lengths of trail that are not connected but are covered by the same planning process should be considered separately, unless there is a special circumstance where several trails function together to access one attraction or serve one purpose. Connected sections of trail that will be constructed or altered over several years should be considered together.

back to main page content

Top

Back | Next

Cover Page

Shield logo for USDA Forest Service Print this pub
mailbox icon E-mail: wo_mtdc_webmaster@fs.fed.us

Forest Service Technology & Development logo

Technology &
Development Center

UsableNet Approved (v. 1.4.1)