From the desk of Mike Rotella, GUDC Interim Associate Director
Camping and hiking may be a fundamental upstate New York experience, but it can pose many hurdles to individuals with lesser ability. Like many outdoor activities, the lack of general accessibility as well as specific access barriers often exclude people with a range of disabilities and their families from participation and/or full enjoyment of hiking and camping. These are activities that many people with disabilities, myself included, just kind of write off. John Dillon Park in Long Lake, New York addresses this difficulty by offering an innovative and fully accessible Adirondack wilderness facility that works for all. The park has many exciting features that enable disabled guests to enjoy a hiking or camping experience.
John Dillon Park is operated by Paul Smith’s College and is the result of a collaboration between the college and former International Paper CEO John Dillon, a Paul Smith’s College alumnus. The vision was to establish a place in the Adirondacks that can offer a truly inclusive experience welcoming visitors of all abilities, disabled or not. It’s an example of Universal Design in a non-traditional environment.
The park’s features make it an exciting place for those who are typically unable to participate in such activities. The park’s trail network is fully accessible with well thought-out surfaces. This gives users of personal wheeled mobility devices total access. There are nine campsites with accessible lean-tos giving people with lesser ability the opportunity to camp overnight. The fishing dock is also fully accessible, and there’s an accessible dock that allows pontoon boat access for any user. Boating is difficult for those with disabilities, but John Dillon Park offers a really great, and safe, solution.
In addition to the built environment accessibility, John Dillon Park offers services to provide disabled guests with opportunities for greater participation. The park offers portable solar chargers for battery-powered personal mobility devices, as well as a daily firewood delivery service to each campsite by John Dillon Park staff. Building in accessible features is great, but backing it up with services is a big part of ensuring inclusion and approachability.
John Dillon Park is just another step in the right direction of Universal Design. It embodies the principles of inclusion and its built environment actually opens the hiking and camping experience to all. It benefits people with disabilities as well as their friends and families. I’d like to see more projects like John Dillon Park, which provides an excellent living laboratory for the study of Universal Design in natural environments.