Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Improving Livability and Recreation Access along America's Byways

Contributed by Rachel Beyerle

Coordination, livable communities, sustainability…these are terms often associated with transportation projects in bustling metropolitan areas, but small towns and cities across the country are finding opportunities to enhance overall community accessibility and livability.  Participants in the National Association of Development Organizations’ Rural Transportation Conference had the chance to explore how states and towns in New England, and specifically Vermont, are completing projects to better connect residents and visitors to community amenities. 

Photo 1. Vergennes, Vt. Main Street Byway Project
Held in Burlington, Vt., the conference included several mobile workshops featuring transportation facilities and operations tied to Vermont’s economic development, tourism, and commercial infrastructure.  Easter Seals Project ACTION staff presented in a conference session titled Meaningful Engagement and Collaboration: Develop a Participation Plan, focusing on tools for involving people with disabilities and older adults in the planning process, and staff also participated in a mobile workshop on Vermont’s Scenic Byways Program.  The Lake Champlain Byway, which runs north-south in western Vermont, features several new projects that improve visitor experience, site interpretation and accessibility.  Specific projects include the Vergennes Main Street Byway Recreational Access improvements, Shelburne Bay Park interpretive signs, and an accessible wayside facility on the Roosevelt Highway approach to the Lake Champlain islands.

Photo 2. Shelburne Bay Park, Vt. Interpretive Signs
The largest of these projects, the Vergennes Recreational Access improvements, includes new stair access and lookout points with benches next to a dam in Otter Creek which is used by locals and visitors for fishing, boating and picnicking. While the stairway is not accessible for people using mobility devices, the structure offers secure steps, handrails and lighting.  A road on the opposite side of the creek provides surface level access to the creek. The stairway is one phase of a multi-phase project to improve walking and trail access between downtown Vergennes and the creek.  The Shelburne Bay Park improvements include interpretive park signage—at an accessible height—located at the park entrance adjacent to a parking area.  The final project viewed by workshop participants is a wayside parking area with an accessible restroom near South Hero on the southernmost Lake Champlain Island.  This area is popular with recreation enthusiasts and boaters, and until the wayside was improved, this section of the Roosevelt Highway (U.S. Route 2) offered minimal facilities for travelers.

If you live in a large, urbanized area with an extensive transportation system, trails, and parks and recreation access, it can be difficult at first to imagine the significance that smaller projects such as those along the Lake Champlain Scenic Byway have to a community in a predominantly rural state.  Significant they are, though, in expanding the opportunity for many more people of all ages to access and enjoy outdoor recreation. 

1 comment:

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