After the Wheelchair Test Drive, What's Next for Universal Access at Smith Rock?

July 9, 2019

About a month ago, Smith Rock State Park’s rangers took to some wheelchairs to see just how accessible the park is to those in different configurations of chairs and levels of assistance needed. Along with Diana, the Director of the Central Oregon Disability Network (CODN) volunteer assistant Linda, and two volunteer testers in chairs, Gabe and Jordan, the rangers set out to experience and gain insight from the volunteer team on the trial trails ride.

Starting at the Welcome Center, the group headed behind the yurt and out left onto the RIm Rock Trail, where they encountered their first obstacle. The transition from pavement to the compacted gravel slope. In the space of a couple hours, with stops to discuss each of the obstacles, the rangers came away with a list of issues they were made aware of by literally putting themselves in the equipment and situation of those experiencing the park from a wheelchair.

SLIDESHOW: Smith Rock State Park Rangers test drive wheelchairs with CODN and volunteers

We sat down with Ranger Nolan Ferdinand, the park’s ADA Site Evaluator among his other long list of duties at Smith Rock, to see what comes next in improving universal access.

Nolan is one of a number of Oregon State Parks rangers providing data to the ADA Coordinator, Helena Kesch, who is heading the Site Evaluation State Plan at the Policy Division for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD).

Ranger Nolan Ferdinand shows us one of the tools he uses to collect ADA data

Ranger Nolan Ferdinand shows us one of the tools he uses to collect ADA data

Nolan told us small steps have already been taken:

  • the slope coming out of the main bathrooms by the Welcome Center to the Monkey Face play area has been redone to level the transition to gravel

  • pull-out keyboard drawers at the Welcome Center interactive stations have been removed to allow wheelchair access to the keyboards and monitors

  • the trash cans in the bathrooms have been moved to clear the entrance for wheelchairs

  • the slope angles of certain trails are starting to be measured to see if they meet (Americans with Disabilities Act) ADA standards

  • relocation of ADA tables that allow for wheelchair access to the main picnic area

One of the goals is to post trailhead information on what the visitor is expected to encounter before they set out on each trail, such as elevation numbers, slope percentages, etc.

NOTE: While posts slideshow images with descriptions, Google map data, and elevation graphs for each of the trails, this information is not easily translated to the map handouts the park provides.

Ranger Nolan Ferdinand walks through the measurement tool to be used for trail data collection in expanding universal access at Smith Rock State Park.

The plan seeks to review each of the state parks for correct signage, the number of accessible parking spaces and camping sites, slope levels, and more. The per park site evaluations will be tailored to each park by July 2020, and then overall state guidelines will be completed by July 2021.

Both the Rim Rock Trail and the North Point Trail are relatively flat trails, but as the park testing crew found out, the slopes and grade level of the gravel used varied. Nolan wants to see more accessible width throughout these two areas and signage posted where wheelchairs may encounter issues prior to them getting too far.

Other issues that sparked discussion was the possible future replacement of wood chips that chairs sink into with rubber matting in the play area, motion sensor or one-handed sink faucets in the bathrooms, and replacing some of the chunkier aggregate gravel with a smaller grade.

Nolan and the ranger team at Smith Rock State Park are determined to do what they can with their current materials and budget prior to the plan standards official release to continually provide better access, coordinating with volunteer efforts when possible. Such an example in partnership resulted in three new ADA campsites in the Bivy Campground area during the American Alpine Club’s Craggin’ Classic last September.

AAC Smith Rock Craggin' Classic volunteers with Smith Rock rangers add ADA campsites

AAC Smith Rock Craggin' Classic volunteers with Smith Rock rangers add ADA campsites

ADA Campsites at Smith Rock State Park Bivy Campground. click to enlarge

The overall goal? To balance the nature of a wild place such as Smith Rock State Park and the experience for those who visit her.