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Guide to Lawrence Loop aims to help people with mobility limitations navigate city’s nature trails

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A group of local people and organizations have collaborated to create a guide to the most accessible routes along the Lawrence Loop. 

People living with mobility limitations may view nature trails as resources they cannot use as they could be difficult to navigate, said disability activist Dot Nary.

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“Equal access to recreation is an ongoing issue,” Nary said.

Dot Nary

“There are already so many barriers to getting physical activity if you have difficulty walking or if you use a wheelchair or walker, so knowing where you can go to enjoy nature, to get some exercise, and not encounter barriers is a huge benefit. The [Lawrence] Loop is a wonderful resource.”

The series of trail routes that make up the Lawrence Loop will stretch approximately 22 miles around the city when they’re all connected this year. So far, more than 18 miles of the Loop are finished and in use, but until recently, there was no in-depth guide on the best and safest ways to navigate it.

The free brochure guide highlights routes with the most modest hills so that people know where the best access is. The goal is to encourage the use of the Loop and allow people with disabilities or mobility limitations to see the Loop as something they can utilize.

The brochure has a map and describes five routes along the Loop. Each route is rated easy, moderate or hard based on the difficulty to navigate through it.

Staff members for the City of Lawrence were able to measure the pathway slopes using special technology, which helped distinguish which areas are flatter. A few residents who use wheelchairs volunteered to test out the trails and relay their perspectives during the process.

The guide also notes where people can find amenities such as parking, restrooms, water fountains, benches and public transit stops in each area.

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Older people experience functional limitations as a natural result of age, but Nary said with that comes a decline in needed social interactions as well. This is especially true for cities like Lawrence that are often retirement destinations, which is why Nary is excited about the completion of the Loop.

“That social time when seeing other people out there is really important to reduce social isolation in elderly people,” Nary said.

Young people with disabilities will also benefit from the Loop brochure, Nary said, and all community members of all abilities have a stake.

“Accessibility is an everyone issue. For example, someone who does not have mobility issues can enjoy a walk with a loved one who does have mobility issues,” Nary said.

Both Nary and Chris Tilden, a Friends of Lawrence Area Trails (FLAT) board member who assisted in writing a grant application for the project, agree that access to recreation is a health concern, and people with mobility issues continue to be disadvantaged in health care.

“The focus is that we recognize that there are disparities in health and that people with disabilities generally lack access to resources that allow people to be active, which is critical to good health,” Tilden said. “So it’s important we ensure that everyone in the community, including people with disabilities and mobility impairment have ready access to those kinds of resources.”

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The Douglas County Community Foundation in December of 2020 awarded FLAT with a LiveWell Community Wellness grant of $6,100 to fund the project. Tilden said all partners met and began collecting data in 2021, finished the brochure last month and recently distributed the first copies.

Numerous organizations were involved in creating the brochure, which is the first accessibility guide to outdoor recreation in Lawrence. Partners included FLAT, the Great Plains ADA Center, the University of Kansas Research & Training Center on Independent Living, LiveWell Douglas County, and Independence Inc.

Nary said she appreciated the community involvement, and she believes the city is being intentional about including the needs of people with disabilities and mobility limitations in its indoor and outdoor recreation centers.

Physical copies of the brochure can be found now at Independence Inc., the Senior Resource Center for Douglas County, the Lawrence Public Library and more locations to come. Information from the brochure was also added throughout the Lawrence Loop website.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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