Baker Wetlands: Making Outdoor Recreation Accessible

Baker Wetlands: Making Outdoor Recreation Accessible

Despite the benefits of outdoor recreation and its importance to well-being, natural settings are often not readily accessible to people with disabilities. Not just a means of getting from place to place, trails provide outdoor experiences that may be difficult to make accessible while maintaining an area's natural elements and ecology.

People tend to equate "accessible" with paved or concrete areas. Park personnel may view ADA accessibility guidelines as conflicting with environmental protection and conservation. For example, pavement creates water run-off that can lead to soil erosion. The Baker Wetlands boardwalk is an example of how a surface can be made accessible for travel directly into the trees, marsh, and grasses, yet still preserving the native habitat.

The Baker University Wetlands Research and Natural Area is located in the Wakarusa River floodplain in northeast Kansas. The area contains 45 acres of native wetland prairie, meadows, marshes, open water, and woodlands and supports a diversity of amphibians, mammals (beaver, coyote, bobcat, deer, fox), and birds (owls, heron, bald eagle). The National Park Service (NPS) has identified the area as a National Natural Landmark. Today, Baker University maintains the Wetlands for ecological research and preservation.

The elevated boardwalk was constructed to tolerate seasonal fluctuations in water level. Wet weather can rot wooden planks, and extreme seasonal temperature changes can cause wooden surfaces to buckle. Wheelchair tires can get caught in gaps between wooden planks. The Wetlands walk utilizes recycled plastic lumber, made from milk jugs and plastic pop bottles, which is colored and designed to appear as natural wood. Its future maintenance needs are considerably lower than that of natural wood. Boardwalk trails, with a natural feel like this one, are more aesthetically pleasing than paved trails in environments such as woods, lakes, and beaches.

Along the Baker Wetlands boardwalk, there are widened areas for wildlife observation, resting, and adequate wheelchair turn radius. Benches allow space alongside to accommodate wheelchairs.

Moreover, the wetlands are just an amazing place of meditation, contemplation, and peace. You can escape the hectic pace and noise of the city and revitalize yourself. Like people without disabilities, individuals with mobility limitations want to stroll through the heart of the forest, not on a sidewalk along the edge of the wood; they want to experience the beach, not view it from far off, or see wildflowers on a prairie, rather than in a book. With the passage of the ADA, advancements in technology, and organizations such as the National Center on Accessibility (NCA) and the National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability (NCPAD), outdoor recreation as a fitness alternative is becoming more accessible.

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