OUTDOORS: Nature more accessible to immobile

Special to the Sun-StarJuly 1, 2013 

Not all people share the same physical abilities and a disability shouldn't keep you indoors. Over the past two decades more and more recreational opportunities for people with disabilities have become available. Many popular outdoor activities — including fishing, wildlife viewing, camping, horseback riding, auto touring, outdoor classes and programs, and hiking — can be accessible for wheelchairs and for people with limited strength, agility, or stamina.

Free federal access: National parks and all other federal recreation areas offer free lifetime access passes for all citizens or residents with permanent disabilities. The pass also provides a 50 percent discount on use fees for campgrounds, tours, and interpretive activities. Senior citizens 62 or older can purchase a lifetime pass for only $10. For more information go to: www.nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm" target="_blank"__gt__http://.

Campgrounds: A growing number of campgrounds offer accessible campsites. Two of the major booking websites (www.recreation.gov and www.reserveamerica.com) offer a specific search option to find accessible campgrounds. On the Recreation.gov site you can find a checkbox for "accessibility needs" in the search menu on the left side of the homepage.

Reserveamerica.com is a bit more complicated. You have to fill out the search menu on the left and click "search" before you can indicate special needs. Once you've performed the initial search, the menu reappears with more options. Down at the bottom is a spot to check "spot with…" Once you've clicked it more options will appear, including "accessible." Checkmark this box and then click on "search campgrounds" to refine the search.

Each campground in the search results will likely have a variety of campsite types. When you select a specific site to reserve, make sure it has the blue and white "international access symbol." On both sites it will appear in the "max # of people" column. You can also reserve over the phone with the help of a booking specialist. For campsites in the federal system (national parks, monuments, forests, etc.) call (877) 444-6777. For California State Parks, call (800) 444-7275.

Scenic Driving: California has thousands of miles of scenic drives. You can see a lot from the seat of your car. With a high-clearance and/or 4WD vehicle, thousands of additional miles of backroads can be explored. For scenic routes in California go to http://byways.org/explore/states/CA.

Internet resources for special needs travel are becoming more and more abundant. These include:

www.wheelchairtraveling.com/" target="_blank"__gt__http:// - provides lots of ideas for outdoor adventures in California.

• Access Northern California: http://accessnca.org/ - click on the "Resources" menu for links to sites with more information about specific parks and recommended trails.

• Beach wheelchairs with special tires for sand are available at many beaches. The California Coastal Commission's website lists places where they can be found: www.coastal.ca.gov/access/beachwheelchairs.html" target="_blank"__gt__http://.

In general, Yosemite is one of the most accessible parks in the state. A detailed, 30-page accessibility guide is available on the internet at: www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/access.pdf" target="_blank"__gt__http://. Some of the park's accessible features include:

• Camping: Accessible sites are located at Lower Pines, Upper Pines, North Pines, Crane Flat, and Wawona.

• Accessible lodging: The Ahwahnee Hotel, the Wawona Hotel, Curry Village, Yosemite Lodge, and Housekeeping Camp offer accessible accommodations.

• Shuttle bus: The Yosemite Valley shuttle is wheelchair accessible, with lifts and tie-downs.

• Designated accessible trails: Several paved trails with minimal grades offer access for mobility devices. They're also great for families with small children in strollers. Leashed service animals are allowed on trails where pets are not generally allowed.

• Tram and bus tours, bicycles: The open-air Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove trams and the bus tours of the Valley, Glacier Point, and the Mariposa Grove can be made accessible by prior arrangement. During the warmer months, tandem bicycles and hand-cranked bicycles can be rented at Yosemite Lodge and Curry Village to be used on the Valley's 12 miles of bike paved bike trails.

• Trail rides: With advanced notice, DNC's stables in Yosemite Valley, Wawona, and Tuolumne Meadows can tailor their horseback rides for visitors with disabilities.

• Visitor centers and museums: All offer access, as does the Indian Village of Ahwahnee located adjacent to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.

• Skiing: During the winter months an adaptive "sit-ski" skiing program is offered at the Badger Pass Ski Area. Calaveras Big Trees State Park is also an excellent destination, with nine accessible campsites.

Before trying a new activity, check with your physician to make sure that it is a good fit. No matter where you are hoping to go, call in advance to verify accessibility.

Many recreation areas have made serious efforts to make some activities accessible to all. A phone call can often put you in touch with someone who can provide helpful information that isn't available on the internet. In addition to the options listed above, many bus, boat, and train tours are also accessible.

Adam Blauert is a correspondent to the Sun-Star. He's an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking, and exploring the western states. He can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com.name hereADAM BLAUERTOUTDOORS

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