Building Accessibility through Trails

Note: VMBA is a founding partner of Trails are Common Ground and this blog was originally written by our Executive Director, Nick, for the April Trails are Common Ground Newsletter. Visit their website to learn more about being Trail Kind and promoting inclusivity.


As the Executive Director of the Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA), I have the great privilege to work firsthand on advancing the goals of the Trails Are Common Ground movement. Vermont boasts over 8,000 miles of public-access trails – including over a thousand miles of purpose-built mountain bike singletrack – in a state smaller than some National Parks. And while we might only be home to ~650,000 people, Vermont’s trails are just a few hours’ drive from more than 60 million. Respect for all user groups and embracing the right we all have to have an enjoyable experience out on the trail is as critical in the Green Mountain State as it is anywhere.

One user group that has historically been overlooked are adaptive athletes – folks with disabilities who require specialized equipment to get out on the trail. This gear typically takes the form of three and four-wheeled adaptive bikes, with and without eclectic motors, that enable riders with mobility limitations to enjoy natural-surface trails and the unique connection they allow us to make with the natural environment. Critically, the unique design of these bikes – which commonly feature paired wheels set 36” apart – make certain trail features like tight turns, excessive camber, and narrow pinch points and bridges, major barriers to access. Often times, trails that would otherwise be well-suited for adaptive riders contain just a handful of these anti-adaptive features and can be modified to be “adaptive friendly” with no discernable difference to the typical two-wheeled rider.

With the aim of identifying and – where possible – removing these barriers, VMBA has been incredibly fortunate to work with Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, a nationally-recognized nonprofit working to empower people of all abilities through year-round inclusive sports and recreational programming. Last season, we collaboratively launched an Adaptive Assessment program, in which we visit select VMBA Chapter trail systems and pedal each trail with Vermont Adaptive experts, local Chapter leaders, and an adaptive rider, noting impediments and upgrade opportunities along the way. These visits produced not only a set of tangible improvements the Chapters can triage and consider, but also clearer trail and trailhead descriptions that provide critical information to adaptive athletes.

This season, we’ve taken the program one step further, helped in large part from seed funding from the Kelly Brush Foundation (KBF)  to provide grants to our Chapters to implement upgrades identified during an Assessment. KBF’s mission is to inspire and empower people with spinal cord injuries to lead active and engaged lives, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have them as a partner in this effort. And this is just the beginning. Working closely with Vermont Adaptive, we hope to establish Vermont as a haven for adaptive athletes and create a statewide network of places for everyBODY to play and connect with nature. Enjoy the ride!

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