Last week, the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission released its assessment of 16 wayside pull-offs along the 154 miles of North Shore Scenic Drive. The year- long project, performed in cooperation with the North Shore Scenic Drive Council, used Americans Disabilities Act standards to evaluate the sites' accessibility to people with physical or sensory limitations.
The document includes recommendations to bring the wayside pull-offs into compliance with ADA standards and also makes additional suggestions to further improve each site. The recommendations were then presented to the entities that own the pull-offs -- the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Department of Natural Resources, communities along the North Shore and the nonprofit organization that owns Sugarloaf Interpretive Center.
Bonnie Hundrieser, a senior Planner at ARDC and staff person to the NSSDC, coordinated the evaluation and said she has been pleasantly surprised by the response of the owners.
"Every entity was receptive and supportive of making any changes they could," she said, adding that improvements have already been made at some sites.
Cook County Commissioner and NSSDC board member Bruce Martinson undertook the task of creating an accessible parking space at Father Baragas Cross in Schroeder Township, along with his son Kyle, a senior at Cook County High School who completed the project as a requirement for his Eagle Scout designation.
"What they did with the handicapped parking looks really good," said Sheryl Martinson, Kyle's mom, "in fact, several people have commented 'hey that looks nice!'"
In 2002, the North Shore Scenic Drive was awarded the designation of All-American Road, the highest honor of the National Scenic Byway Program. There are only 41 roadways that have earned the title.
In a press release that year, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said, "America's Byways are roads to the heart and soul of America. Byways help create a sense of pride in America. They connect us to this country's beauty, history and culture."
Hundrieser said the recommended improvements to the wayside pull-offs are intended to allow more people to enjoy the North Shore.
"We want to connect people to the North Shore and give them a positive safe experience, because we want them to come back."
During the assessment, the sites were evaluated for the accessibility of beaches, views of Lake Superior, picnic tables, pathways, restrooms and parking. Weighing in further will be representatives of organizations like Wheels on Trails. The group's aim is to "provide opportunities for good quality outdoor experiences for people with disabilities," said Dwight Morrison, the co-chair along with Randy Vogt.
The pair are certified trail evaluators, having completed a training program in 2007. The Universal Trail Assessment Process they use is accepted world-wide as a means to judge the accessibility of trails, parks and recreation areas, said Morrison.
"The ADA is just a minimum standard," he added.
Due to the topography of the area, Hundrieser said "there's not a lot of opportunity for people to get onto the shore. We are looking for ways to address this." She said solutions may include paved pathways that allow wheelchairs and walkers to more easily traverse the distance from car to shoreline.
"We looked at how we could possibly get people closer to the beach or to loved ones playing on the shore," Hundrieser said.
Although the recommendations of the ARDC and NSSDC are not a mandate, Hundrieser sees the improvements as a win/win for everyone.
"The North Shore Scenic Drive is special throughout the country and we want to make it the best experience possible. These improvements will benefit the whole travelling public from people who use wheelchairs to people pushing kids in strollers, "she added.
To read "North Shore Scenic Drive: ADA Accessibility Evaluation of Waysides Project" go to http://www.arrowheadplanning.org. Readers who wish to offer further input on making waysides more accessible along the Scenic Drive may call Bonnie Hundrieser at 218-529-7527 or email her at email@example.com