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Monday, July 18, 2016

Making Illinois State's Parks Accessible To Those With Disabilities

Jay Williams (left), coordinator for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Disabled Veteran Opportunity Program, talks with Todd Rettig, director of the INDR's Office of Land Management, at the agency's District 5 office near Benton on Monday. photo: Byron Hetzler, The Southern
BENTON, IL. — From time to time, Jay D. Williams gets a call from someone with a physical challenge wanting to come to Illinois to enjoy some of its natural wonders or enjoy some hunting or fishing.

Nice article by STEPHANIE ESTERS for THE SOUTHERN | Jul 12, 2016
When they talk to him, they invariably discuss their physical handicap, hoping that he can recommend the perfect place for them to enjoy the great outdoors. Oftentimes, as they discuss their physical disability, they tell him that he doesn’t understand.

Williams, who was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident when he was 13 that left him as a paraplegic, tells them he understands. For the past 16 years, he has worked as the disabled outdoor opportunities coordinator for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, working to ensure that people with physical challenges enjoy this area's great outdoors as much as anyone else.

“I eventually have to tell them, ‘George, Joe, Ralph, yes, I do get it, and this is why,'” Williams said. “It’s really a big deal. What we do, we make, reasonable accommodations.”

He stresses "reasonable," noting that it would be impossible to have every part of the state's lands be accessible to those with physical disabilities. He noted that he often gets calls from a hunter wanting to hunt in a specific area, but notes that if that area is not used by someone who does not have a disability, it will not be available to those who have physical challenges.

"You can't make the outside ADA compliant," Williams said.

Job comes from need for ADA compliance
Williams' job grew out of the state's need to comply with an update to the Americans with Disabilities Act calling for people with disabilities to have equal access to participate in outdoor activities. He began the job in 2000.

He ensures that parks allow hunting and fishing, for instance, to those with disabilities. If someone with a disability wants to experience hunting or fishing in a state park, for instance, and that park is not accessible to them, the park staff can exercise what’s called a “10 Day Rule,” which allows them that much to make that area disability-accessible. That could include creating a space for fishing from the banks, for instance.

Jeremy Holderfield, a 40-year-old who lost his vision in 2005, would like the Department of Natural Resources host a Saturday or Sunday hunt for people with vision problems. His vision was impacted by complications from diabetes and glaucoma.

"I think that would peak the interests of the blind individuals into getting out into nature again," he said.

He still hunts with assistance from his wife and sons; he said he could go alone into parks like Ferne Clyffe in Goreville, but not Giant City State Park in Makanda.

"It's just enjoyable to spend time outside with your children," Holderfield said. "I really want my kids to know as much as they can about the outdoors ... to live off the land as much as they can. You respect the land; the land respects you."

This past year, he said he shot nine ducks, 15 snow geese and two deers and still traps animals.

Others, like Art Hunt of Harrisburg, still boat, getting assistance from a friend who drives him to the launch and helps get him in the boat. There's not a lot more Hunt, also a paraplegic who critically injured himself when he fell out of a deer stand years ago, said he wants from local state parks, other than some sort of way to drive himself to the lake and put his boat in alone — a thought he expressed, but then said he thought better of.

Hundreds of thousands of acres to access
States areas such as the Wayne Fitzgerrell State Recreation Area at Rend Lake and Giant City State Park in Makanda are among the 480,000 acres overseen by administrators at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

When people call looking for a place to go that's ADA accessible, Todd Rettig, director of the DNR’s Office of Land Management, said he typically asks them what part of the state they're in and where they want to go. He then gives them the name of the site superintendent for the park they're planning to attend.

If it’s something in this area they want, they could be referred to Giant City State Park, which has a path that is asphalt or concrete-covered that allows better mobility for those in wheelchairs; those with disabilities can also apply for special permits when they visit these parks, for the privilege of using an All-Terrain Vehicle or an Off-Highway Vehicle to access parts of the area they might be hard-challenged to get to. Using these vehicles, these park guests must travel from a Point A to a Point B, Williams said.

The parks that have cabins must have at least one for those needing handicapped accessibility, he said.

At Wayne Fitzgerrell, there is bustling work to make the space more accessible for those with disabilities.

A $5,000 donation from the Safari Club International allowed the staff there to upgrade its boat dock ramp to make the lake more accessible to those with disabilities. Builders are about two-thirds completed with the project, according to Ted Lieferi, site supervisor for Wayne Fitzgerrell State Recreation Area.

The donation allowed the builders to widen the walkway, which has aluminum railing on each side and the landing near each boat slip, creating a solid surface where someone in wheelchair, for instance, could fish.

In addition to making this park more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the staff are also organizing various other events:

• Plans are also underway for the 18th annual Rend Lake Shooting Classic on Sept. 10;

• On Oct. 1, Dixon Springs State Park, near Golconda; Fort Massac State Park, near Metropolis; and Ten Mile Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area in McLeansboro, will host archery deer and archery turkey hunts.

• This fall, from Nov. 4 to 6, Wayne Fitzgerrell staff will host the park's first shotgun deer hunt for the disabled on park campgrounds; those participating will have specially designed deer stands.

• The Touch of Nature will host an archery deer hunt the week before Thanksgiving at Wayne Fitzgerrell.

• Williams is hoping that organizers of the Paralyzed Veterans Association bring their Bass fishing tournament to Wayne Fitzgerrell sometime in October; those plans have not yet been confirmed, though.

Spaces like Giant City Park boasts a trail, the Post Oak Trail, a third of which is a paved to accommodate wheelchairs, according to park naturalist Jennifer Randolph, a natural resources coordinator. Randolph said she believed that trail is one of the most developed for handicapped accessibility.

"There's just not a lot that I'm aware of," she said.


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