No Limits

MARIN COUNTY’S ABUNDANT trails and water recreation make it a veritable paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Unfortunately, not all of the splendor is accessible to people with motor or visual impairments. However, thanks to disability rights advocates and passionate community members, these folks now have greater access than ever to our postcard-perfect landscape. And while change has not always come quickly — it’s been 25 years since Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act — we are making headway.

The National Park Service’s Golden Gate National Recreational Area, for example, was already making slow, steady progress toward improving facilities for people with disabilities when, thanks to a legal settlement reached last year, upgrades throughout the park are being expedited. These will augment access for thousands of visitors each year.

Improvements include everything from extending the existing boardwalk through the Pinchot Grove area of Muir Woods to providing accessible parking and connectors as well as upgrades to 1.5 miles of accessible trail in Rodeo Valley. Additional improvements include special mats that allow wheelchairs to move easily across the sand to the high tide line at Muir, Stinson and Rodeo beaches. “These mats are also helpful to people using canes and walkers or to those who may not need a wheelchair, but aren’t steady on their feet,” says Alexandra Picavet, a park ranger and spokesperson for the GGNRA. “We also have beach wheelchairs that are equipped with oversize tires that glide across the sand at Stinson, Muir, Rodeo and Tennessee Valley beaches. You’ll want to book five days in advance to guarantee availability.”

Marin County residents and visitors also have access to several adaptive sports programs. At Halleck Creek Ranch in Nicasio, for example, people with a wide range of challenges can enjoy a day of horseback riding on the area’s extensive trails, or if they prefer a more controlled environment, the organization also has an 80-by-120-foot arena. “We have ramps that allow riders to mount the horse, even if they don’t have use of their legs,” says executive director Barbra Hill. “We also have adaptive tacks.” The ranch, which functions as a nonprofit, serves people of all ages. “We have riders as young as three and as old as 79.”

And given that this is a maritime region, it should come as no surprise that a local with a passion for boating would team up with a friend with a degree in orientation and mobility to create a sailing program for the blind. “We started giving lessons to blind sailors in 2007,” says Danette Davis, program director of Sausalito-based Marin Sailing Schools Program for the Blind. “It happened that I bumped into my friend Al Spector, who was just opening the Marin Sailing School, and we got to talking about how we could work together.” In their first season, they trained about a dozen visually impaired sailors. These days the school serves a dozen or so students a month. Some of those students sail recreationally while others go on to sail competitively.

San Francisco–based Environmental Travel Companions (ETC) offers a variety of kayaking trips to people of varying abilities and backgrounds, departing from both San Francisco and Tomales bays. “Our goal is to make the great outdoors accessible to everybody,” ETC executive director Diane Poslosky says. “There’s a stewardship aspect to it because we know that you can’t love what you don’t know.” Beyond Marin, the nonprofit also runs whitewater rafting trips from its sustainably designed river camp on the South Fork of the American River as well as sea kayak trips in Mendocino and Baja.

Although cyclists famously flock to Marin County from across the world, we are currently without an adaptive biking program. The good news: the Berkeley-based Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program (BORP) runs one of the largest adaptive cycling programs in the country and will loan riders an adaptive bike for tooling around the East Bay or going all the way to Point Reyes. “We have more than 75 adaptive bikes for anyone who wants to get fitted,” says BORP executive director Rick Smith. Riders are permitted to use bikes independently, but the program also offers group rides to destinations all around Northern California. “Our biggest event is September 26th at the Trentadue Winery in Geyserville,” says Smith. “It’s our big fundraiser and it brings together riders with and without disabilities. You can choose to just tool around the winery or ride a 20-, 45- or 60-mile loop.”

Dawn Denberg

Dawn Margolis Denberg has worked as a professional journalist for 20 years. Her work has appeared in top publications, including Wired, Shape and Parenting. She has also written several books for children including, The Men in Black Agent’s Manual The Official Godzilla Movie Fact Book. And, most recently, an episodic audio series for Tales Untold.