‘The Pinelands Is For Everyone’ Initiative Improves Access To Nature For People With Disabilities

By: Follow South Jersey Staff

Monica Cahill (far right), Operations Lead of Pinelands Adventures, leads an inclusive hike at Atsion Recreation Area with visitors from Kingsway Learning Center. Pinelands Adventures offers inclusive eco-tours of natural and historic areas in the New Jersey Pinelands designed for people with disabilities. Pinelands Adventures is operated by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, a recipient of an Inclusive Healthy Communities grant. Photo credit: John Gattuso.

SOUTH JERSEY – “The Pinelands is for Everyone,” is an initiative seeking to break down barriers and ensure that individuals of all abilities can enjoy the Pinelands natural areas is being launched by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA), with funding from the New Jersey Division of Disability Services’ Inclusive Healthy Communities (IHC) grant program.

Learn more about “The Pinelands is for Everyone” initiative in this video.

Studies have shown that spending time in nature can have significant physical, mental, and  emotional benefits; however, many people with disabilities encounter obstacles that  prevent them from fully enjoying the outdoors. These challenges include inaccessible trails,  inadequate facilities, and limited information. The collaborative effort hopes to enhance access to nature in the New  Jersey Pinelands for people with disabilities.

“Everybody deserves to enjoy these spectacular public places that have been preserved for our  benefit,” said Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance stated in a press release from the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. “But today they cannot be enjoyed on an equitable basis by everyone due to the way trails are created. Because of the way public lands are managed, they are relatively inaccessible for  people with disabilities.” 

The initiative has several key components: 

1. Accessible Trails: The PPA is collaborating with state and local authorities, as well as disability  advocacy groups, to identify existing trails that require improvements to enhance accessibility.  The initial aim is to make these trails more wheelchair-friendly and accommodating for  individuals with mobility impairments. The PPA is currently working on trail projects at Brendan  T. Byrne State Forest and the Pemberton Lake preserve. 

2. Inclusive Eco-Tours: The PPA’s outfitter service Pinelands Adventures is developing inclusive  eco-tours for the diverse needs of individuals with disabilities. These programs will include  educational outings, guided hikes, and the use of specialized adaptive equipment such as all terrain wheelchairs. 

3. Accessible Trails Map: One of the key barriers preventing people with disabilities from  enjoying natural areas is a lack of information. To fill this gap, the PPA is developing a mobile-

friendly, map-based website to provide detailed information as well as images of trails and  scenic locations at parks and other natural areas that are at least partially accessible. The site  helps individuals determine whether a given trail will work for them. Visit the website at:  storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/5d5e1b29f76a42299b708dc0457e7086. 

4. Partnerships: The PPA actively seeks partnerships with disability advocacy organizations,  community groups, and government agencies to promote the initiative, share resources, and  exchange knowledge. Current partners include Disability Rights New Jersey, Hopeworks, Allies  in Caring, Kingsway Learning Center, and others.  

5. Dialog and Outreach: The PPA also conducts a quarterly online Access Nature Forum where  individuals with disabilities and their allies, advocacy groups, nonprofit organizations, land  managers, and local and state officials discuss ideas about policy and best practices, identify  priorities, and join their voices for improving access to natural places throughout New Jersey. 

“It is absolutely possible to make natural places more accessible for people with disabilities,”  said Sean Kane-Holland, PPA’s Nature and Disability Advocate since 2022. “This project  provides a means for those with disabilities, including myself, to have a voice and to ensure  everyone in our diverse community has a chance to enjoy the magnificence of New Jersey’s  great outdoors.” 

Peri Nearon, Executive Director of the Division of Disability Services and founder of the IHC grant program, stated that the program will serve as a model for similar programs for natural areas across the state.

“Including people with disabilities in every aspect of this work is a fundamental principle of the  IHC program,” Nearon said. “We’re confident that PPA’s initiative in the Pinelands can serve as a model and an inspiration for making natural places throughout New Jersey more  accessible for people with disabilities.” 

The IHC grant program is an initiative of the New  Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Disability Services. The program funds New  Jersey communities and organizations engaged in work that promotes the health and well being of individuals with disabilities in the communities where they live.

To learn more about “The Pinelands is for Everyone” and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, visit pinelandsalliance.org

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