Natura sin Barrerasby David Barlew, Jr. on 02/26/14
While many people take joy from spending time in the great outdoors, natural environments such as forests, mountainsides, and beaches can be difficult or impossible for individuals with mobility issues to access. Rock formations, loose sand, uneven terrain, and other obstacles all present problems for physically-disabled, nature-loving individuals who want to get out and experience the wonder of the natural world.
In recent years, though, I have visited a number of beautiful, natural places where efforts have been made to make wild environments accessible to everyone regardless of physical ability. Through the installation of walkways, decked surfaces, and ramps, diverse landscapes ranging from tropical beaches to Appalachian hillsides to Slash Pine forests have been opened to individuals with physical disabilities.
The Kendeda Canopy Walk at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Atlanta, Georgia offers visitors of all abilities the opportunity to pass through the high canopy of a broadleaf, humid subtropical forest typical of the southeastern United States.
The walkway winds its way through "the branches of oaks, hickories, and poplars" (Atlanta Botanical Garden).
It also provides ample seating along its length through the forest's many tree trunks and branches.
The Kendela Canopy Walk is an attractive, elegant structure, and, according to the Atlanta Botanical Garden website, it is also the only "canopy-level walkway of its kind in the United States" (Atlanta Botanical Garden).
A similar, though much longer, structure has been constructed to the north in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The South Chickamauga Creek Greenway in East Chattanooga weaves its way between trees and against steep rock faces as it follows the meandering course of South Chickamauga Creek below.
The greenway allows visitors to observe both forest and wetland wildlife while travelling along the sloped side of a ridge that rises out of the creek. Rock formations, trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and other natural elements are readily visible along the elevated, wooden path.
The greenway provides a smooth, easily travelled passageway through otherwise difficult terrain and opens the beauty of South Chickamauga Creek and its environs to everyone.
Equally challenging terrain has been made accessible by the East Slough ADA Hiking Trail at Julian G. Bruce Saint George Island State Park in Eastpoint, Florida. The hiking trail creates an accessible path from sun-kissed sand dune beaches along the Gulf of Mexico through native pine flatwood forest to the green marshlands of Apalachicola Bay.
Passing through the light shade of tall Slash Pine trees overhead, the ADA-accessible boardwalk trail allows visitors of all abilities to see the native evergreens, grasses, cacti, and marshlands representative of the Gulf Coast ecosystem.
Another installation farther to the South in Luquillo, Puerto Rico allows individuals in wheelchairs to access the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Known as el Mar sin Barreras (translation: Sea without Barriers), this accessible beach facility is located at el Balneario de Luquillo on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico. As far as I know, this is the only beach on Earth where individuals in wheelchairs can enter the Atlantic Ocean in a conventional wheelchair.
The picture above was taken at low tide, but, at other times, the water comes right up to the ramp and submerges the beach-level landing.
El Balneario de Luquillo also features wheelchair accessible picnic pavilions, concession stands, and shower facilities, making the entire public facility handicap accessible.
Although natural environments such as beaches and forests can present challenges to individuals with physical disabilities, it is nice to see that efforts are being made to open the beauty of nature to everyone regardless of physical ability. Thanks to the installation of accessible infrastructure such as ramps, boardwalks, and smooth surfaces, physically-disabled, nature-loving individuals now have the opportunity to access the wonder of the natural world.
Written by David Barlew, Jr.
All photographs by David Barlew, Jr.
"Kendela Canopy Walk”. Atlanta Botanical Garden. Web. 25 February 2014. http://atlantabotanicalgarden.org/plan-your-visit/map-locations/kendeda-canopy-walk.
"Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park”. Florida State Parks. Web. 25 February 2014. http://www.floridastateparks.org/stgeorgeisland/activities.cfm#22.