Existing trail signage can be unclear. Subjective descriptions, such as “difficult” or “moderate,” are relative terms that can lead to confusion for persons with mobility impairments. What is easy for one person may be impossible for another. A person with limited mobility will not know if he or she can access a trail without objective information.
Access is a subjective term that can only be determined by each person using objective information. Trail Access Information (TAI) provides objective information for all paths of travel, enabling users of all abilities to determine what is necessary for completing the journey. TAI serves to illuminate paths of travel, enabling users of all abilities to identify trails that best suit their abilities.
Trail Access Information (TAI) is summary information that is required in all new trailhead signage as part of the guidelines established in the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) Standards (2015) and the US Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines (FSTAG) (2013). TAI communicates the average and maximum grade and cross slope as well as the typical and minimum trail width. Information about the surfacing on the trail related to firmness and stability and obstruction information for obstructions greater than 2 inches in height are also communicated through the TAI.
The availability of TAI allows each user type to determine if a trail meets their personal needs based on the type of trial usage (hiker, equestrian, OHV etc.) and/or the abilities of the individual.
Collection of objective information allows trail managers to determine if they have trails that meet the ABA or USFS guidelines for accessibility when constructing new trails or when reconstructing existing trails. Understanding the objective trail tread conditions will ensure compliance with the latest accessibility guidelines, reduce liability, and increase trail usage.
Adapting national parks for wheelchair hiking
National Park Service accessibility specialist Quinn Brett explains more about wheelchair hiking and highlights Beneficial Designs trail assessment in a recent article by PBS NOVA.
1991: objective trail characteristics
Existing trail rating systems using subjective descriptions such as “difficult” do not give users the information they needed to safely attempt a hike. In 1991, Beneficial Designs conducted a pilot study in Yellowstone National Park and the Gallatin National Forest, in order to identify specific objective trail characteristics which would provide hikers of all abilities the necessary information to make adequate safety and equipment preparations as well as decide whether or not to hike a trail. These characteristics include grade, cross slope, tread width, surface firmness and stability, and the presence, dimensions, and locations of obstacles.
Beneficial Designs received funding* in 1993 to create a universal mapping system to communicate detailed and pertinent information about individual trails. The information was designed to be useful to anyone who might want to hike a trail, regardless of their hiking ability.
1993 - phase 1: the beginning of the universal trail assessment process (UTAP)
Beginning in Yellowstone National Park and the Gallatin National Forest, along with professionals from the National Park Service, the USDA Forest Service, and volunteers from several states, Beneficial Designs performed trail assessments for the first time in July and August of 1993. The assessments resulted in many improvements to data forms and the measuring process, in addition to valuable input regarding map layout and information content.
1994 - phase II: training trail assessment coordinators
In September 1994, Beneficial Designs again received funding* in order to train and certify trail assessment coordinators to conduct their own trail assessments. Trail data collected during the assessments was processed into trail access information, including a grade profile and summary of average and extreme grades, cross slopes, and trail widths. The trail assessment process expanded to collect trail maintenance data useful to trail managers.
trail access information (TAI)
Since that time, the collected data from trail assessments has been displayed in many formats in order to present objective trail access information to the public. A range of options have been designed to help people with a variety of abilities obtain hiking information, including pocket maps, trailhead maps, trailhead signage, audio trail descriptions, and more recently GIS maps and data. The visual formats, conforming to accessibility standards, utilize a combination of universal symbols, general and detailed written information, grade illustrations, and overhead route schematics to convey trail access information to visitors. In addition, audio descriptions of a trail for persons with vision impairments can now be distributed electronically via a link with Trail Access Information (TAI).
This project was funded by the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health through Small Business Innovation Research Phase I Grant #1 R43 HD29992-01 and Phase II Grant #2 R44 HD29992-02.