As any outdoorsy Portlander can attest, one of one of our city’s most treasured assets is the immense amount of trail networks that weave through the area. Despite the city’s dedication to creating and maintaining public trails, however, one demographic has been historically left out: while people with disabilities have never been explicitly prohibited from using Portland’s trail networks, there have been no major attempts to make it easier for them to safely and comfortably enjoy these outdoor retreats.
Georgena Moran, a Portlander and power wheelchair-user, says she first recognized the problem when looking for a trail to explore the Columbia River Gorge. “I could not find the information I needed to know," she explains. "If I could park my van and deploy my ramp, or make it to the trailhead, or use the trail to reach the viewpoint or waterfall I saw on the websites for the Gorge."
After this disappointing search, Moran began reaching out to local, state, and federal parks and recreation agency representatives to learn more about what was being done to address the issue. What she discovered was a nearly universal uncertainty about how to responsibly disseminate trail information to the disabled population. According to Moran, “Trail agencies have been reluctant to provide information on the trails that might be usable by people with various disabilities, in case they got hurt, in which case the agencies might be liable for insinuating that the trails were usable.”
These are the fundamental issues Moran hopes to address with Access Recreation, a Portland-based organization that compiles detailed trail information for hikers of all abilities and experience levels. In 2014, Moran’s organization began the AccessTrails Project, a multiyear endeavor “to conduct trail assessments from the perspective of the user with a disability.” Through extensive trail reconnaissance and consults with parks and recreation representatives, AR continues to expand its vast online resource. At this point in the ongoing AccessTrails project, 24 trails have been scrutinized, photographed, and meticulously described by the Access Recreation team. Any trail enthusiast—with or without a physical or cognitive disability—who has concerns about what they might encounter on a particular trail can access this information on the AccessTrails Project website.