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Spring is Here! Take a Hike: Smartphone App Makes Hiking Wheelchair Friendly
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Spring is Here! Take a Hike: Smartphone App Makes Hiking Wheelchair Friendly

With warmer weather right around the corner and the official start of spring now behind us, a lot of people might be itching to get outside. Fortunately, a new smartphone app is making it easier for everybody to find a great outdoor experience wherever they are.

The Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC) is a nonprofit organization that promotes trail creation and management across the country, as well as trail-use as a way to build walking and biking networks for people of every age and ability in every community. These trails, known as rail trails, are multi-purpose walkways and hiking paths created from former railroad corridors. Typically flat, these pathways lead through urban and rural communities throughout the country and are ideal for almost any kind of use, including wheelchairs.

In 2012, the organization created a smartphone app to meet the demands of a growing outdoor adventure culture. The app, simply put, is a trail finder database, reaching 7 million trail users and counting. RTC has been studying certain human behavioral shifts in the last decade, for example, a growing interest in trail use, not just trail management or creation. Pair this with an increase of smartphone use in the last five years and you’ve got the demand for a handy app when you’re out exploring the wilderness or seeking the nearest trail to your own home.

The app currently contains around 3,500 trails in its database. In addition to recording where trails are located, the app also notes if those trails are wheelchair accessible. Under the Activities section of each trail, you will see “Wheelchair Accessible” if the trail is indeed wheelchair friendly. According to Frederick Schaedtler, Senior Director at RTC, all trails share a 3 percent grade, which means a very mild incline of less than 2 degrees, and most are paved.

The RTC’s mission is to connect individuals with the great outdoors by promoting trail use, and this app allows people of all physical abilities to find just the right hike for them. There is a uniqueness of a rail trail, not only in historic or scenic value, but in its accessibility too. All trails listed in the app are considered easy to moderate, about 8-feet wide, and typically include a trailhead and parking, along with those fairly flat grades and paved pathways.

Wheelchair users know that a lot of thought and preparation go into planning any kind of activity because of a lot of unknowns; society hasn’t made the world accessible to everyone yet. So it seems that the potential for unexpected setbacks could discourage wheelchair users from exploring the outdoors. This app takes care of the planning for you. It’s easy to use and lists trails’ length, location, surface, map preview, and more. It also includes a description of each trail so you know what to expect ahead of time. Some of these descriptions even include a brief history of the trail!

While the RTC promotes rail trails, it has recently been adding greenways to its database that have characteristics of a rail trail. Schaedtler notes that you should check with local trail management before your excursion, just in case the app hasn’t been updated yet.

Our friends at RTC are frequently expanding the app database and it’s exciting to see an organization making more of the world wheelchair friendly. As Schaedtler put it to me, everyone should be able to enjoy the trails, so they made the app for everyone.  

Make sure you download the free app, officially named TrailLink – Bike Trails, Walking Trails, and Offline Trail Maps, from the app store.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons user Scooter Lowrimore.


Leave a Comment

  1. cjd
    Rails to Trails is fantastic....the app is wonderful.
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  2. CampHillBill
    Thanks to Rails To Trails Conservancy and its smartphone app I have been able to go out and enjoy nature again!
    Log in to reply.
  3. PinelandsSue
    Great info!! Thank you!
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  4. Stickman
    Great app. I will make to share with all my friends. Thank you.
    Log in to reply.
  5. sohayder
    Thanks for bringing this to the forefront! Didn't know it existed but now thankful I do!
    Log in to reply.

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