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Accessibility Guidebook for Outdoor Recreation and Trails

Important Tools for Accessible Recreation

The following tools work together with the accessibility guidelines when accessible recreation facilities and programs are being developed and managed.

Built Environment Image Guide

The "Built Environment Image Guide" (BEIG) provides guidance for improving the image, aesthetics, sustainability, and overall quality of the Forest Service's built environment. It emphasizes key elements to showcase the Forest Service's national identity and an image of quality and service. Within eight geographically defined architectural character types, BEIG emphasizes design that projects the overall Forest Service image while echoing local values, heritage, and culture. Use of BEIG contributes to an integrated approach to planning and design, including early collaboration among planners, designers, specialists, managers, and maintenance personnel.

The goal of BEIG is to influence the design, construction, and maintenance of buildings and other constructed features so they will:

  • Fit on the land
  • Reflect sensitive site planning and a concern for natural processes
  • Harmonize with the local landscape and climate
  • Incorporate the principles of sustainability as an integral part of their architectural character
  • Be accessible
  • Be durable and low maintenance

BEIG specifically requires use of universal design principles and points out that if universal design principles are applied to a site or facility design from the outset, they rarely, if ever, have any obvious effect on architectural character. When the principles of universal design are skillfully executed, facilities can still fit seamlessly within the natural and social environments. More information about BEIG is available at

Recreation Opportunity Spectrum and Recreation Site Scale

Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) classifications provide guidance on the:

  • Amount of development that is acceptable at any given site
  • Amount of deviation from the site's natural characteristics that is appropriate during development
  • Types of materials that are appropriate for the setting
  • Typical recreation activities in each setting classification (figure 23)

Photo of a man rock-climbing. The man is using a prosthetic leg.
Figure 23—This free-style climber appears
to enjoy the challenge, self-reliance, and
independence characteristic of semi-primitive
and primitive recreation opportunity spectrum
settings. Photo credit: Disabled Sports USA,
Rockville, MD

The spectrum assigns classifications of Urban, Rural, Roaded Natural, Semi-Primitive Motorized, Semi-Primitive Non-Motorized, and Primitive based on identified setting characteristics. Some units also include a Roaded Modified classification. Maps should be available at district or supervisor's offices showing ROS classification for the National Forest System lands administered by that unit. More information about ROS is available at

The amount of development at a site is described using a six-level recreation site planning development scale ranging from 0 (no site modification) to 5 (extensive site modification). Site modifications are provided for visitor convenience and comfort in recreation sites with characteristics meeting the criteria for scale level 3, 4, and 5. Rustic or rudimentary site modifications may be provided for resource protection at level 2 or less. Definitions of each level of the Forest Service's recreation site scale are included in the Forest Service Manual, Chapter 2330, exhibit 01.

Although neither ROS classifications nor the recreation site scale determine accessibility requirements, take both into account when designing site improvements. For instance, you may need improvements for resource protection in primitive and semi-primitive settings at recreation sites meeting the criteria for scale levels 1 or 2. In urban, rural, and roaded natural settings, you may want to provide improvements for visitor comfort and convenience at recreation sites meeting the criteria for scale levels 3, 4, or 5.

Wilderness Access Decision Tool

Details and implementation guidance for applying Title V, Section 507(c), the section of ADA that applies to Federal agencies and to the programs and facilities on federally managed lands, can be found at Federal managers of wilderness areas can use this matrix to make appropriate, objective, and consistent decisions that meet the legal requirement to provide equal opportunity for all individuals, while ensuring no fundamental change to the wilderness experience for all individuals, in accordance with the 1964 Wilderness Act.

Appalachian Trail Conservancy's "Backcountry Sanitation Manual"

This comprehensive manual explains the basic issues of remote area sanitation, including health, aesthetics, and regulations, but it focuses on the construction and maintenance of moldering and composting toilets, and includes case studies and design plans. The "Backcountry Sanitation Manual" is a cooperative project of the Green Mountain Club and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Resolving problems of backcountry sanitation is a continuous challenge for trail clubs and land managers. This manual was created in the belief that all remote recreation areas will benefit from an expanded discussion of backcountry sanitation.

Pete Antos-Ketcham, Director of Operations, Green Mountain Club

Appalachian Trail Conservancy's "Increasing Opportunities for Access on the Appalachian Trail: A Design Guide"

Using the Forest Service's FSTAG and FSORAG, this design guide incorporates real-world Appalachian Trail examples as case studies that represent opportunities that can be used on other pedestrian trails. The guide's theme—universal design—transcends issues solely related to access for persons with disabilities by describing how universal design reduces resource damage and maintenance, saving money. The guide is available free of charge at, (Appalachian Trail Conservancy 2007).

Accessibility Guidebook for Outfitters and Guides Operating on Public Lands

This guidebook contains a framework to help outfitters and guides who operate under a special-use permit from the Forest Service provide high-quality services for all visitors (figure 24). The guidebook addresses basic facility accessibility issues, but focuses primarily on program and activity accessibility. Outfitters and guides who operate businesses on public lands are governed by ADA because they are providing public accommodations and are also governed by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act because they are operating under special-use permits from Federal agencies. The guidebook identifies legal requirements and provides suggestions and practical tips for complying with ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The guidebook is available at

Photo of a woman and a man holding up a stringer of fish. The man is using metal balance supports that attach to his forearm near the elbow.
Figure 24—Outfitters and guides provide the logistics
and support for visitors to enjoy a wide range of
opportunities on national forests, including fishing.

Accessibility Guidebook for Ski Areas Operating on Public Lands

This guidebook provides a framework to help ski areas operating under special-use permits from the Forest Service better serve all visitors (figure 25). The guidebook addresses facility and program accessibility. Ski areas located on public lands are governed by ADA because they are providing public accommodations and also are governed by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and related regulations because they are operating under special-use permits from a Federal agency. The guidebook includes legal mandates, suggestions, and practical tips for complying with laws and regulations and providing high-quality services. The guidebook is available at

Photo of two people downhill skiing. One person is an instructor and is skiing backwards. The other person is wearing a vest that reads: BLIND.
Figure 25—Ski areas that operate on public land must provide equal
opportunity to access their services.

Cooperative Publications

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) cooperates with the Forest Service to provide Forest Service publications and videos to the public. Many publications are available at in HTML and PDF (Acrobat) formats. Print copies for some publications can be ordered at

Standard Forest Service National Trail Specifications

The engineering management publication "Standard Specifications for Construction and Maintenance of Trails" (EM–7720–103) provides a uniform set of specifications for contracted trail work throughout the Forest Service. Although these specifications do not address accessibility, they can be used in conjunction with FSTAG. The publication is available at

Trail Construction and Maintenance Notebook

The Missoula Technology and Development Center's "Trail Construction and Maintenance Notebook" contains basic trail building information. It is available at

Although this document doesn't address accessibility, it is an important tool that you can use in conjunction with FSTAG during trail construction and planning.

Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access

FHWA's "Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access" is a two-part report on pedestrian accessibility, (Beneficial Designs Inc. 1999 and 2001).

Accessibility guidelines and practices, as well as construction and maintenance techniques, have evolved since these reports were published. More current information is available in other reports and guidance. For example, see the U.S. Access Board's public rights-of-way Web site, which includes guidance documents and other resources. Documents available at the U.S. Access Board's Outdoor Developed Areas Web site include reports, such as the "Special Report: Accessible Public Rights of Way Planning and Designing for Alterations" and guidelines about outdoor developed areas. The U.S. Access Board also is considering "Shared Use Path Accessibility Guidelines", for trails that are part of a transportation network. FHWA has additional accessibility information on its Accessibility Resource Library Web site at

Planning and Designing Outdoor Recreation Facilities for Horses

"Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads, and Campgrounds," a comprehensive technical resource, details those elements of planning, design, and construction that are specific to equestrian trails, trailheads, and campgrounds. The report is available at

The Facilities Toolbox

The "Facilities Toolbox" is an interactive Forest Service facility management Web site designed to help line officers and their staffs manage facilities effectively. The toolbox focuses on issues at administrative sites, but also contains topics such as accessibility, partnerships, recreational fees, historic facilities, and water and wastewater. The toolbox can be accessed at

Natural Resource Manager

Natural Resource Manager (available only to Forest Service employees) is the Forest Service corporate integrated data management tool developed for the purposes of inventory, asset management, and upward reporting of information concerning constructed features, including their associated financial data. The site-specific accessibility data fields (number of accessible units, etc.) are on the Recreation Site module's Site Core 2 tab. It is an annual national requirement that this information be kept up to date. Feature-specific accessibility data entry (fields are on the Recreation Site module's Features tab) is not a national requirement; data entry in those fields is optional and it is up to regions or forests to decide if they want to record data.

Recreation and Heritage Resources Integrated Business Systems

This recreation resources management system identifies customer standards that the Forest Service expects to provide across all recreation and heritage resources program areas. Standards form the baseline for estimating the total cost for quality visitor opportunities and services. Compliance with the accessibility guidelines (figure 26) is an important quality measure within the national standards for recreation sites under the responsiveness key measure. The Natural Resource Manager database houses recreation information including inventory, operation and maintenance costs, recreation use data, and information on accessibility. The database is used to implement the recreation resources management system.

Photo of a man using a wheelchair beside a lake. He is looking through a tripod-mounted camera with a telephoto lens at a snow-covered mountain in the background.
Figure 26—The perfect photo spot—a spectacular view and the right mix of resource
protection, site development, and accessibility.

Deferred Maintenance

Maintenance work includes improving accessibility as well as compliance with building codes. Include the costs for any uncompleted work that is needed to bring a building into compliance with the provisions of ABA that were in force at the time of construction or major improvement to the building in the Natural Resource Manager database deferred maintenance costs.

If the transition plans to bring the structures into compliance with ABA provisions have not been completed, include the cost to complete them in the deferred maintenance figure because the plans were due for completion before the current fiscal year. The transition plan process (per 7 CFR 15e, section 150) is as follows:

  • Evaluate the facility.
  • Record improvements needed to meet accessibility standards.
  • Develop the transition plan, including:
    • Items to be improved.
    • Schedule with completion dates for improvements that will take more than 1 year to finish.

When the transition plan is completed and approved, include the costs to implement accessibility code improvements in the deferred maintenance figure. How and when the costs are included as deferred maintenance depends on the scheduling recorded in the transition plan. Costs for actions scheduled for the current year are immediately included in the deferred maintenance figure. Costs for actions that are past due as of the current fiscal year are also included in the deferred maintenance figure. Costs for actions scheduled for future years aren't added to the current year's deferred maintenance figure. These costs are added as deferred maintenance in the year they are scheduled for completion. As work is completed, it should be shown as an accomplishment in the Natural Resource Manager database for that fiscal year.