Ask Mrs. Trails: Nicole Lewis
Trails are important in our regional parks system, and Metro is about to release its Parks and Nature ADA Transition Plan later this summer. Nicole Lewis, a regional planner with Metro Parks and Nature, talked to us about that plan, her connection to trails, and her favorite trail.
Could you tell us who you are and how you are connected to trails?
I am a regional planner with Metro Parks and Nature. My connection to trails is personal and I hope will be life-long. As a kid, I discovered the colors and textures and scents of my home along the trails of Marquam Hill and Washington and Forest parks (I may have wandered off-trail a bit in my teenage years). As a young adult I explored the leading edges of both my confidence and openness to healing on trails thousands of miles away.
Some days my professional connection to trails feels accidental, but my path into public service with a conservation focus was no accident. A portion of my work is about helping make the trail system that Metro stewards more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities and multiple generations, through a focus on strengthening related agency policies and practices.
What is your favorite part about trails?
I enjoy the human and technical side of trails. I’ve really enjoyed learning, decoding and sharing the planning and design guidelines for making trails accessible. The federal Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas published by the U.S. Access Board provide a great place to start. For me personally, I love getting a little lost on a trail, or being so deep in that forward is the only way to go. I love finding the unexpected, and taking my boys (2yrs and 4yrs) on a trail adventure that may be their greatest adventure yet. Photo: Hikespeak.com
You mentioned that you are leading the Metro Parks and Nature ADA Transition Plan. Could you tell us more about that?
Americans with Disabilities Act is civil rights legislation. And it’s almost thirty years old! A transition plan focuses on the built environment – including trails and other outdoor recreation facilities. The plan is largely about removing physical barriers to help fulfill an agency’s responsibilities under the ADA. While compliance is critical, I hope we use the Metro plan as a stepping stone to offer something much greater. In my mind, the greater goal is a demonstrated commitment to and investment in proactive inclusion in all outdoor recreation programs and experiences across the region.
Everyone deserves to find home in nature. No matter what that looks like for you and those you love, you deserve a safe and dignified path to get you there. In literal terms, providing accessibility is not always about paving that path (though firm and stable surfaces are essential). It is about creating an intentional variety of trail challenges and experiences and meaningfully engaging people with disabilities in policy design and project decision-making, start to finish.
As a public agency, Metro is also responsible for providing information that can help people determine for themselves whether a trail is or is not accessible. Accesstrails.org, an initiative led by local expert and advocate Georgena Moran, models this practice. It is not Metro’s job to interpret what is accessible, and there is no standard of design or practice that can do this for us. Human capacity and experience is infinitely diverse; the goal is to empower people rather than provide a “yes/no” based on our own narrow experience.
What role do you think trails play in connecting areas in the region?
Trail-making has the potential to advance transportation equity and ecological justice in our region. Working thoughtfully towards these objectives will connect our communities in a way that no regional trail facility can do on its own. Even trails can result in regional or neighborhood divisions and displacement, and benefits and impacts that are disproportionate across lines of race and geography.
My art is not as a regional trails planner, but in asking questions that speak to the truth of what I see. This is a privilege I have. What I see is great opportunity to reflect on how we have planned traditionally, and to move forward building our regional trails network in a socially and ecologically sustainable way.
Do you have a favorite trail or a favorite destination on a trail?
What a wonderful question! The trails at Riley Ranch Nature Reserve in Bend, Oregon are a recent discovery. Beautiful, open setting with views, relatively flat slopes, and a steep downhill connection to Tumalo State Park trail along the Deschutes River. A little something for everyone.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
The ADA transition plan for Metro Parks and Nature will be available for public review later this summer. If you’d like to receive notice when it’s ready, please let me know! Nicole.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, if you have examples of trails or trail systems that you feel model positive elements of accessible and inclusive design, please considering sharing them. What do you value most about the experience that the trail/network offers?