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It has been almost a year since the Department of Justice (DOJ) created a stir in the trails community about “other power-driven mobility devices” (OPDMD). While the rules had been open to public comment during the previous year, many of us shared the same thought: “do they really mean what I think they mean?” And yes, the DOJ rules mean that anything with a motor that can be driven, regardless of size or horsepower, is allowed on your trails and open areas if it is driven by a person who says they have a mobility related disability.

Segways are just one kind of device or vehicle that can be considered an OPDMD

You may not have noticed a sudden surge of electric ATVs or monster trucks on your nature trail. We have seen a rather modest number of trail assessment and policy documents, and I suspect many people are hoping that somebody, somewhere, will come up with “the right answer.” But trail managers who don’t address this issue are open to a very wide interpretation of what a mobility device can be.

American Trails hosted a webinar on OPDMD last spring with Janet Zeller of the U.S. Forest Service helping trail managers understand the rule. The result of 700 people listening and talking about this issue was a deluge of questions. With more help from Janet, we compiled a huge Q and A list. But there were still many questions that simply had no clear answer or precedent in other ADA law. So the DOJ received a list of the toughest problem areas, like animal-powered vehicles, federal funding implications, trail gates, requiring permits, and much more.

We have not yet heard answers from DOJ, who have also had inquiries from many other people concerning their own specific situations. However, part of their job is to help make sense out of what many would call “unintended consequences” of the OPDMD rule. So we have been assured that we’ll be hearing from DOJ in the form of some technical assistance in the not too distant future. When the DOJ issues that guidance we will alert you and make copies available. This is an opportunity for land managers to take a fresh look at their policies and decision-making processes on trail use in general– and to see how people with disabilities might be better accommodated.

Please keep this issue in mind. We’ve assembled the most complete guide to the rule, along with many questions and answers, and examples of local and state OPDMD policies. Here’s a good place to start: Introduction to DOJ rule on “other power-driven mobility devices” and their use on trails.

— Stuart Macdonald, National Trails Training Partnership program manager for American Trails

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The current crisis in funding for trails and other bicycle-pedestrian programs has created another big partnership problem. Why is one trails program funded but Enhancements are not?

At American Trails our goal is to build common ground among a wide array of interests, even those who don’t have much to do with trails. Why? Because we believe we are all part of an important movement to create healthier communities, to improve accessibility, to reduce dependence on cars, to promote freedom as well as safety for children, and to conserve public lands and linear parks.

The new House transportation bill specifically attacks programs for bikeways, walking, state bike programs, rail trails, and safe routes to school. The reason the Recreational Trails Program seems to be spared (this week, anyway), is probably because it is tied to a specific aspect of the federal fuel tax: gas burned by OHVs, snowmobiles, hunters, and others driving off-highway on our public lands.

However, an important legacy of the Recreational Trails Program is that it brings both motorized and nonmotorized trails people together. It’s the recreational vehicles that fund the RTP, but most of that money is going to nonmotorized trails. It took the whole spectrum of trail enthusiasts to make the program politically viable. In the same way, we believe the long-term success of the other vital funding programs will be ensured only by maintaining the partnership among many diverse interests.

So we urge you to take the long view, to recognize that there is more strength in greater numbers. Please count yourself as part of the movement for a healthier planet. That’s why American Trails is supporting Safe Routes to School as well as Wilderness hiking; active transportation as well as rail trails; and bridges to public transit as well as preserving access to our public lands. Read more about supporting trails and bicycle/pedestrian programs…

— Stuart Macdonald, American Trails website and magazine editor

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"The Hulet Hornbeck Trail" Dedication Ceremony in 2005

See comments left by family and friends below.

Hulet passed peacefully away on the morning of January 7th. Recently Hulet successfully beat esophageal cancer and was recovering contentedly when he came down with congestive heart failure this past week. He had been living at his daughter’s lovely and loving Assisted Living Home in Pacific Grove since July. She was by his side when he died.

Hulet loved his family and friends, and as you know, was passionate about trails, parks, and the preservation of greenways. As he rested, he enjoyed reading about trail happenings throughout California and the country.

READ HULET’S OBITUARY ~ provided by his Family

Hulet Hornbeck’s Service – February 26, 2012, 11:00 a.m.
(click here for directions)
East Bay Regional Park District’s Tilden Park
Wildcat Canyon Road at Shasta Road, Berkeley, California
Brazilian Room

Hulet’s family can be reached at: Hornbeck Family, 1229 David Avenue, Pacific Grove, CA 93950.

Read more about Hulet’s life in the “In Memoriam” section of our website.
Here is the direct link to his page: http://www.americantrails.org/resources/memorial/Hulet-Hornbeck-memoriam.html.

We would love to add your stories, articles, memories, photos, quotes, etc., if you would like to pass them on to us. Items can be emailed to trailhead@americantrails.org or you can call the office at 530-547-2060.

Feel free to link to these pages and to share them with others.

Below you can easily post comments, memories, tributes, as well as thoughts for Hulet’s family.

Hulet, the trails community both mourns your loss and celebrates your life! Thank you for lighting our way

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This is the time of year that most of the world celebrates life, the passing of the old, birth and rebirth. In our country, amid the holiday hoopla, we also seek the spiritual connection that is at the heart of our religious traditions. For many of us, that includes a brisk walk under the bare trees in the wan winter light, or braving the slopes to feel the crunch of snow and a glimpse of distant hills. From frozen meadows to salty sandscapes, this season is a time to be with people we love while savoring our beautiful natural world.

This is also a good time to reflect on the spiritual dimension of trails and pathways. There are so many ways that people find a sense of joy and renewal on trails of many kinds. Whatever the terrain or type of trail, there is that sense of anticipation, of looking ahead. And that reminds us how in every season of human existence, we still see glimmers of hope, and the light of joy ahead of us.

Ian Bradley, who wrote Pilgrimage: a spiritual and cultural journey, notes that the number of Europeans making pilgrimages is steadily rising, even as church attendance has slipped. “Many people, uncomfortable about sitting in pews and uneasy with institutionalized religion, find it easier to walk rather than talk their faith,” he writes.

For at least a thousand years, pilgrims have walked the Way of St. James (El Camino de Santiago) to reach the cathedral dedicated to St. James at Santiago de Compostela. There are many other pilgrimage trails from Turkey to Tibet where people seek a spiritual connection. In Japan, the pilgrimage route around the island of Shikoku reaches 88 Buddhist temples and sacred places. In New Mexico, pilgrims walk a few hundred yards or a hundred miles to reach El Santuario de Chimayo during Easter week.

Many of you will have seen the Associated Press story about the “Gospel Trail” in Israel. The 39-mile hiking route runs from Nazareth across the hills and through Jewish and Arab towns. The project was supported by the Israeli Tourism Ministry to help visitors have a more intimate journey through Biblical landmarks and landscapes. You can download the brochure on the Gospel Trail…

Another interesting exploration of spirituality is Ronald Bearwald’s “Twenty life lessons of the trail.” He writes about the serenity and rigors of trails that put us in touch with our own capabilities and sensibilities. You will find more articles about the spirituality of trails on our website…

We wish you all a happy holiday season, and joy at the end of your own pilgrimage!

— Stuart Macdonald and the American Trails staff

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We had a great conversation with Nancy Desmond of Cleveland Metroparks, who told us how trails had made a difference in her life and career. Nancy is Partnership & Planning Assistant with the park district:

“I’ve been a mountain biker and trail runner for years but I worked in park interpretation and education. I came from a history museum background, so didn’t think much about trails, I just used them.

“A few years back our park planner asked me to substitute for her presenting at the American Trails Symposium in Little Rock. Not knowing what to expect, I quickly discovered these trail folks were “my people”!  I’d never thought about trails as the asset they are, offering a thousand different experiences to a wide diversity of people.  Not many other things we do in this line of work serve so many people in so many positive ways.

“Since then, I moved from interpretation into planning at my organization, Cleveland Metroparks, and learned as much as I could about the art, science and culture of trails. I became a passionate advocate for all trails, but sustainable, natural surface trails in particular.

“Cleveland Metroparks owns 22,000 acres of parkland and forest, but did not put a priority on natural surface trails. It showed in an eroded, outdated trail system. But through the effort of many employees, the sustainable trails movement finally took hold!

“I recently coordinated the volunteers on a major mountain bike trail building effort here as our organization learns about sustainable trail building.  We used the student Conservation Corps leaders to help build the trail and train our staff and invited surrounding park districts to learn too. We decommissioned poorly designed trail and flagged nine miles of flowing single track for bikes, hikers and runners. We’re about to hire a trails coordinator to oversee all future trails projects and expect several more redesign and rehabilitation projects next year.

“Thanks American Trails for changing the course of my career and for the work you do to benefit all!”

Learn more about Cleveland Metroparks trails program…

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Somewhere near midnight on November 30 the last person taking the Trails Training Survey was counted. It turned out that 755 people actually went through the whole thing and hit the “Submit” button. This wasn’t the shortest or the easiest survey, by a long shot. So we would like to thank trails people all over the country for sticking with it and giving us the benefit of their experience.

Just that fact shows there is indeed considerable interest in training for trail skills. But there are a lot of things we hope to learn, such as the kinds of people or organizations most interested in training. And what is most important? We provided a long list of specific topics and asked people to rate the need for these different kinds of skills. We also asked about best ways to deliver training, how people have learned trail skills, and priorities for the National Trails Training Partnership. Finally, we asked about 20 people from trail groups, States, and agencies some questions by phone on more specific issues and ideas for training.

Why does all this matter? The short answer is that it takes real knowledge to plan and build good trails. Informed managers make better decisions on planning as well as contract management. Skilled volunteers are more effective, and they feel their time has been well spent. You can also look at the many ways that better trail decisions save money, time, and problems.

So thanks again to everyone and we’ll look forward to bringing you information about the survey results as we delve into the data.

— Stuart Macdonald, National Trails Training Partnership project manager for American Trails

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Amy Pendergast of Healthy Shasta asked a question that made me stop and think: “What are the top things that are most likely to draw people to the trail as repeated trail users?”

We want trails to be attractive, in the broadest sense of the word, but what does that mean? For walkers, the classic popular trail is a loop around a lake that provides a half to two mile trip. Whether biking or walking, people like loop trails way better than backtracking. You’ll even see people walking around and around a ballfield or park. However, a trail up a hill to an overlook is also popular. The greenway along a river corridor is another one, and even better if there is a trail on both sides of the waterway so they can make a loop.

If you’re talking about desire for recreation or exercise, people highly value natural beauty and access to seeing big trees, water, wildlife, wetlands, etc. Destination is almost irrelevant. Of course, in the bigger picture, what we really want is a variety of trails that link together and provide more choices of distance, access point, and type of experience.

It’s also true that people like walking around an attractive neighborhood (not necessarily their own) more than a long, straight trail or a route along a busy highway. They also want easy parking, a sense of safety, a map and signs so they won’t feel lost. Being able to enjoy a trail in every season also brings people back during the year. And for many, a wide easy trail facilitates socializing and getting together with a group.

Of course there are different interests, and what I’ve been describing is more for “mature” walkers or families. Others are looking for trails with specific exercise attractions for running, mountain biking, or a serious climb in elevation. There are more subtle factors as well: a sense of discovery, changing vistas, a little adventure. And finally, places with real birding opportunities, native habitat, and nature study are also appealing. We’d be interested in hearing your suggestions on what makes a community trail attractive, and any good examples.

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