Perspective: Disabilities, infirmities, ONF

Opinion By Bob Mollerus
Brinnon - published in Port Townsend Leader


Brinnon, WA - Teddy Roosevelt championed the preservation of natural lands for federal and state parks and wilderness areas to preserve them and prevent wanton development of the land. Equally important was his desire that these areas be made available to all citizens so they could visit and develop an appreciation of these natural regions. Our federal and state park systems have become one of our greatest resources for the edification of those not fortunate enough to be able to live in or close to nature

During the winter of 2002 flooding washed out and blocked the only road access to the Elkhorn and Dosiwallips campgrounds. These campsites and the trail head further up the Dosewallips Road were established in 1919 and have been continually operated and upgraded since that time. Considerable money has been spent in the last few years to upgrade these campgrounds for people with disabilities, including wheel chair access to toilets, washrooms, and wider trails. The Dosewallips and Elkhorn Campgrounds are the only sites on the East side of the Olympic National Forest with handicapped facilities in the mountains and far removed from the black top of Highway 101. The road washout ended this unique opportunity for disabled visitors.

And what of us who do not fit into the government approved definition of disabled? How about the very young who need to be carried or aren’t strong enough for long hikes? What of the elderly or the high percentage of Americans who are significantly obese? This list includes people with medical disabilities such as a joint replacement surgery, emphysema, angina, lung surgery, a variety of open heart surgeries, chronic back pain, and many more. In many instances the distinction between disabled and infirmed is less than clear. All such visitors had been well served by access to the bathroom, water, camping sites and facilities and the ability to get there by motor vehicles. How far they chose to explore the more natural and primitive areas once they got there depended upon the nature of their affliction. Excluding the handicapped and the infirmed gives only the more physically able and fit the opportunity to use and enjoy these campgrounds.

Now the Dosewallips Recreation Area is threatened from continuing its triple purpose of pleasure, exposure and education for its users. Funding for repair of the road washout has been allocated and is not the issue. The Forest Service proposes to re-route the road around the washout. This has met with strong resistance from environmental groups including the Olympic Forest Coalition (OFC), an Olympia based group composed mostly of people living outside the immediate area. The OFC loudly claims this proposal would interfere with the habitat of the spotted owl, the marbled murrelet, the bald eagle, a variety of salamanders, and some vegetation in the proposed 800 foot long re-route. The accuracy of many such claims is becoming increasingly questionable based on recent scientific studies. They also claim some 200 trees including a small amount of old growth trees would come down but the Forest Service has clearly stated that the harvest would be much smaller.

Emotions about trees and the creatures of nature often blur the truth and some environmentalists appear to be using this to their advantage. Incredibly, the OFC proposes decommissioning the road entirely beyond the washout and substituting a walking trail beyond that point. That would add 4 to 5 miles to the length of access to the campgrounds by foot trail only.

Do mostly undocumented and questionable environmental issues really justify closing this road and preventing access to the campsites by the disabled, the impaired and us mere short hike mortals? What of this very special opportunity for the handicapped? The OFC and other environmental groups apparently choose to ignore the handicapped and physically impaired. They want to preserve the use of these campgrounds only for physically fit hikers. The OFC and other more radical environmentalists want to deny access for the handicapped and infirmed to facilities already existing and meeting the disabled special needs. I firmly believe that their actions are in violation of Title 2 and Title 3 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991. Specifically Title 3 requires that people with disabilities be allowed equal access to services that are available to the public, including recreational activities. Title 2 relates to governmental services at the local, city, state and national level.

The Department of the Interior website states it this way: “No person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, color, national origin, age or disability be subjected to unlawful discrimination under any program or activity conducted by or which receives Federal financial assistance from the Department of the Interior. Discrimination includes: denial of services, aids, or benefits; provision of different service or in a different manner; and segregation or separate treatment.”

Parks and Recreation is a division of DOI. On this basis the question becomes not if the road should be rebuilt but when and where it should be built. In the apparent conflict between environmental issues and the legislation protecting Americans with disabilities, I favor our citizens.

I strongly urge all readers to join me in supporting the efforts to rebuild this road. We must make our voices heard over those of the opponents. Those of you with disabilities can contact and file a complaint with: Director, Office for Equal Opportunity, Department of the Interior, Washington, DC, 20240. Forms are available on the Americans With Disabilities web site, then click on the link to “Parks and Recreation”. Non- handicapped citizens can contact the National Park Service with letters and phone support. All citizens can call, write, or e-mail our legislators in Olympia. The Legislative Hot Line number is
1 800 562-6000. Time is running out. Please act now.

Bob Mollerus
Brinnon, WA

(Bob Mollerus is the school board president in Brinnon, WA)



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