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 MTDC > MTDC Pubs >1223-2806P-MTDC; Accessibility Guidebook for Outdoor Recreation and Trails T&D Publications Header

Accessibility Guidebook for Outdoor Recreation and Trails

Designing Access Into the Outdoor Environment

This part of the guidebook explains how to incorporate the Forest Service Outdoor Recreation Accessibility Guidelines (FSORAG), the Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines (FSTAG), and the applicable sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act/Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADA/ABAAG) into the outdoor recreation environment. The portion of ADA/ABAAG that applies to Federal agencies is also known as the Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Standards (ABAAS) and is available at

Suppose you are assigned a project to reconstruct portions of a picnic area or to design a trail, but the work doesn't include any buildings. Based on previous information in this guidebook, you know to use FSORAG and FSTAG, rather than ABAAS, because FSORAG and FSTAG include accessibility provisions for all the features that will be part of the project. As you read through FSORAG and FSTAG, however, you may have questions about how to apply all the technical requirements, exceptions to the technical provisions, and conditions that allow for an exception. This part of the guidebook will help designers understand the rationale behind each of the provisions and how to apply the guidelines.


Some phrases and words as used in the context of FSTAG and FSORAG may not be familiar. Examples include:

Conditions for an exception from a technical requirement are circumstances found in natural environments, construction practices, or certain laws that may make compliance with the requirements difficult.

Exceptions to the requirements are allowed under certain circumstances and are identified in paragraphs labeled exception in FSTAG and FSORAG.

Practicable means work that can be completed within the limits of the applicable conditions for exception and results in a useful improvement for all.

Provisions are the sections of accessibility guidelines and standards that explain what is required for specific situations and facilities (parking, picnic tables, trails, and so forth).

Scoping means figuring out when, how much, and where the guidelines apply.

Technical requirements state the specific numbers, conditions, and measurements that are required (percent that must comply, dimensions, reach ranges, grades, trail width, and so forth).

Specific phrases and words include:

Construction is building a new trail, recreation site, or facility where there was none before.

An alteration of a trail is a change in the purpose, intent, or function of the trail.

An alteration of a recreation site, building, or facility is a change to a portion of a recreation site, building, or facility that is addressed by the accessibility guidelines and that affects the usability of the site, building, or facility.

Maintenance means routine or periodic repair of existing trails, recreation sites, or facilities. Maintenance doesn't change the original purpose, intent, or function of a facility. Maintenance isn't covered by FSORAG or FSTAG. Maintenance includes but isn't limited to:

  • Repairing or replacing deteriorated, damaged, or vandalized trails, facilities, or components, such as repainting, removing graffiti, and repairing or replacing components of facilities with new components similar to the original ones. Components can be sections of bridges or boardwalks, signs, fencing and railings, siding, windows, and roofing.

  • Removing debris and vegetation, such as fallen trees or broken branches; clearing encroaching vegetation from trails, pathways, lawns, or landscaped areas; and removing rock slides.

  • Maintaining trail tread and access routes, such as filling ruts, reshaping a trail bed, replacing or reshaping surfacing material, repairing washouts, installing riprap to retain cut and fill slopes, constructing retaining walls or cribbing to support trail tread, and repairing concrete or asphalt paving.

  • Performing erosion control and drainage work, such as replacing or installing drainage dips or culverts and realigning sections of trail to reduce erosion or avoid boggy areas.

While FSORAG and FSTAG don't apply to maintenance, it is Forest Service policy to improve accessibility wherever the opportunity arises. Where practicable, resource managers are encouraged to improve accessibility through maintenance and repair activities as explained in MAINTENANCE TIP— Improve accessibility through maintenance.

The word "reconstruction" isn't used in Federal accessibility guidelines or FSORAG and FSTAG, even though it is frequently used in the recreation and trails communities. For the purposes of FSORAG and FSTAG, actions are categorized as construction, alteration, or maintenance.

The Purpose of FSORAG and FSTAG

FSORAG and FSTAG provide guidance for maximizing accessibility while recognizing and protecting natural settings, which can be challenging. Some basic assumptions:

  • Accessibility is to be considered up front, not as an afterthought.

  • The Forest Service policy of universal design is integrated into FSORAG and FSTAG.

  • All new construction and alterations for Forest Service outdoor recreation facilities and trails must meet the requirements of FSORAG and FSTAG.

  • FSORAG and FSTAG incorporate ABAAS sections that are applicable to outdoor developed areas.

  • Compliance with FSORAG and FSTAG does not mean that all recreation areas and trails will be accessible to all persons with disabilities; in some locations, the natural environment will prevent full compliance with some of the technical requirements.

FSORAG and FSTAG have sections explaining when, where, and how much of the recreation area or trail is included (scoping); what has to comply with the guidelines; definitions of terms; and technical requirements defining the physical characteristics of accessible features, such as width, height, slope, length, surface conditions, and so forth. The building blocks for accessible design are based mostly on wheelchair dimensions, clear space, maneuvering room, and reach ranges found in ABAAS because the dimensions, multiple moving surface contact points, and wheels of a wheelchair are the most difficult to accommodate. If someone in a wheelchair can use an area, most other people can too.

Each section of FSORAG is explained in practical terms, followed by a similar explanation of FSTAG.