Improving Accessibility at Our National Parks

Emily KaminNPF Blog
View from above of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, nestled between two rivers as the sun rises
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park - NPS Photo / Flickr - Buddy Secor

National parks offer a respite from the frenzy of daily life and an opportunity to connect with nature, history, and culture through our sense of adventure. That’s why the National Park Foundation is helping the National Park Service ensure that everyone can experience the magic of national parks.

Though there is no one experience for people with disabilities, NPF is working to make national parks more accessible to people of varying abilities by supporting renovations at places like visitor centers, exhibits, parking lots, trails, restrooms, and more. Accessibility improvements might include modifications to the incline, width, and grade of trails; adjustments to the height and placement of signs and exhibits; installation of ramps and guard rails; or the creation of new maps and informational materials so that people can better plan for their adventure. These are just a few examples of the type of projects that help ensure people of all abilities can have enjoyable and memorable experiences at national parks. And here are a few examples of how the National Park Foundation is putting these projects into action:

Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park

Mist crawls over a crystal river, bordered by trees, sparkles in the early sunlight. Two birds fly over the river in the distance

River confluence seen from "The Point" at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

NPS Photo / Flicker - Hammer

One of the most visited locations at Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park is a vantagepoint at the top of the peninsula nicknamed “The Point.” From here, visitors have the perfect view of the spot at which the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers converge and flow through the gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Visitors to The Point can view three states – Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia – at the same time.

Funding from the National Park Foundation is helping National Park Service construct an accessible route to The Point, so more visitors can access this magnificent vista. An ADA-accessible walkway will be installed, creating a safe, multi-use, and sustainable access path to the highly popular viewpoint. There will also be new and informative waysides along the path that convey The Point’s significance as a geographical and cultural landmark and natural resource.

The walkway will be constructed so that cultural, archeological, and natural resources of the area will not be disturbed and so that the journey to the viewpoint remains as majestic as the destination.

Devils Tower National Monument

A view of Devils Tower from the boulder field by the Tower Trail.

A view of Devils Tower from the boulder field by the Tower Trail at Devils Tower National Monument

NPS Photo / Avery Locklear

When Devils Tower National Monument was established as the country’s first national monument in 1906, about 20,000 people visited the site each year. Rich with geological formations and Native American history, this site has gained popularity with visitors. Now, the site sees nearly 500,000 people annually, who come to marvel at the shapes and colors of its geology, hike its trails, or rock climb to the view at the top of Devils Tower.

This increased level of visitation has called for an update to the park’s infrastructure. With the help of NPF, the site is collaborating with the National Center on Accessibility to undertake accessibility improvements at its most popular areas, where visitors typically spend up to 98% of their time. This includes the visitor center, the highly traversed Tower Trail, and the climber registration building. The project will create an accessible pathway to the Tower Trail, install interpretive waysides along the trail, make improvements to exhibits in the visitor center, and make upgrades to parking lots, restrooms, and bus drop-off and loading areas. The site will also install a new interpretive plaza equipped with a shade structure.

These projects, and many others like it, are made possible through grants from the National Park Foundation, which help all people connect to and enjoy our national parks. Donate today to become a part of the #FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque community.

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And another brand new ADA accessible trail just opened at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It leads to John and Lucretia Oliver Cabin, along Cades Cove Loop!

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