From the opening reception at the Taos Country Club on Wednesday evening (October 5), through two days of engaging panel discussions and seminars at the Sagebrush Inn and Conference Center, to what has become an annual conference tradition of visiting From the late afternoon field to local outdoor recreation hotspots, this year’s New Mexico Outdoor Economy Conference in Taos left attendees plenty to think about. This was the conference’s fifth consecutive year.
“It was stellar,” said conference organizer Sen. Jeff Steinborn, who also represents State Senate District 36 in Doña Ana County. “We always do a survey. And 80% of the participants answered yes to the question: ‘Did you learn something that you will use in your work?’
“People were very interested in infrastructure, but conservation was also a high priority — protecting the natural world — and the pressing challenges facing the state,” Steinborn continued. “And there were a lot of political issues around inclusion and equity that everyone wants to be better educated on.”
Equitable access to the outdoors for people with disabilities, a topic that has been covered in conference roundtables in previous years, has received much attention at Taos, as have the economic barriers to which many many low-income New Mexicans face when it comes to playing outdoor sports. such as skiing or rafting.
Silver Councilwoman Guadalupe Cano, who has mobility issues that require her to use a wheelchair, said the accessibility discussion itself was an important foundational step toward creating recreational infrastructure outdoors more uniformly accessible.
“How many people have you seen at the wheelchair conference? For the past five years, it’s always been me and Dustin,” said Cano, executive director of GO Unlimited, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit. that facilitates adaptive outdoor recreation experiences. “We say we want a seat at the table, but sometimes we can’t even make it to the table.”
In a separate panel, Berg said outdoor recreation infrastructure must keep pace with the rapid development of adaptive sports equipment.
“Some of the things that were major limiting factors are no longer [factors]”, he said. “I imagine that many of you do not know that there is an adaptive mountain bike, full suspension, three-wheel drive with electric assistance that we can ride on the trails of Taos Ski Valley. And Santa Fe and Red River. When we develop our infrastructure plans, we need to include these ideas in the overall plan.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires new infrastructure and public spaces to be designed to standards that allow access to buildings, public spaces, sidewalks, and other infrastructure, is not enforced rigorously to outdoor recreation infrastructure such as trailheads and trails.
“There are ADA-accessible or ADA-accessible trails — but that’s not a federal requirement,” said Carl Colonius, outdoor recreation planner for the state’s outdoor recreation division, at Taos News. “For mountain bike trails, in particular, adaptive mountain bike technology has only been around for five to seven years. So when a trail manager is trying to keep mountain bikes off a non-motorized trail, he designed the barriers so that you pull a bike on its rear wheel and work your way in. They didn’t think about adapted bikes and wheelchairs.
Colonius added that “Getting these federal land management agencies up to speed quickly is like getting the Titanic up and then spinning.”
Like most people who rely on mobility aids like wheelchairs to get around, Berg had a handy example of a small design flaw that can make an entire recreation area inaccessible to people like him. .
“The handlebars on a normal mountain bike are about 29 inches wide, and then your adapted mountain bike is 36 to 38 inches wide,” Berg said. “We don’t find the difficulty on the trail – where we find our difficulty is just getting to the trail, the entry point. Often there’s just one door that’s only one thumb too [narrow]; and if that door were one inch wider, it would still prevent a four-wheeled vehicle from passing through.”
According to US Senator Martin Heinrich, it is likely up to land management agencies like the US Forest Service or the US Bureau of Land Management to further apply the federal Persons with Disabilities Act, which was enacted in 1990, to their policies. internal. The statutes to support the new planning rules are already on the books.
“I think when [the ADA] was originally envisioned, it was a mechanism to make everything more accessible when things are built or remodeled,” Heinrich told Taos News. in trail planning, land use planning. I think that’s probably something that needs to happen in every agency, for the BLM, for example, to consider accessibility when they do planning; and the Forest Service takes this into account when rewriting forest plans.”
In the Carson National Forest Plan, which was last revised this year, one of the “desired conditions of recreation” is “a variety of high quality, developed and dispersed recreational opportunities and activities are available for a diverse group of forest users, including people with disabilities.”
Desired conditions for infrastructure such as forest campgrounds, man-made fishing areas such as reservoirs, scenic views and restrooms, for example, include accessibility for people with disabilities, according to the 300-page forest plan, who mentions the words disability or disability just 11 times, mostly in regards to employment.
According to a Carson National Forest spokesperson, there are a few forest sites in the Taos area that are designed with accessibility in mind, including the Agua Barrier Free Trail. However, due to closures related to the suppression of windstorms and forest fires, at least two sites are not recommended for visitors to the forest with reduced mobility. Eagle Rock Lake, a former gravel pit located next to the Red River outside of Questa, underwent remediation and was reopened in 2015 with wheelchair accessible fishing in mind.
“I think, as we realized during COVID, the outdoors is not a ‘fun to be had,'” Heinrich said. “Access to the outdoors is really important for people, for our physical and mental health, and we need to make sure that all of our population has access to the outdoors.”
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