Recent trail closures, as well as new trail closure proposals, across the West have sparked hundreds of conversations and fights around the internet. From Reddit threads to Instagram and TikTok posts, to letters to the editor sent to local newspapers, these closures are a contentious issue.

And most of the discourse revolves around who gets to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of our parks system, with folks arguing that powersports and off-roaders are damaging to the environment, as well as anecdotes about how "They [off-roaders] aren't actually witnessing the beauty of nature." I wrote a story about this issue recently and about how the latter is a bullshit thought that undermines the future of our national and state parks system.

But this asinine rhetoric is also particularly damaging toward a segment of the population who often aren't part of this discourse: disabled people.

You see, not everyone can hike into the backcountry like I can. Not everyone can walk for miles with water, food, or shelter on their backs like I can. And when you remove motorized trail access like is being done right now, you exclude a great number of people who would otherwise be able to witness the beauty I spoke of earlier. You remove their ability to go out and adventure and see the wonders outside. 

The Outdoor Americans With Disabilities Act, however, aims to change that. 

According to Fox 13 Salt Lake, "The new Outdoor Americans with Disabilities Act will require federal land managers to analyze the impacts of the plans they make on Americans with disabilities. That would mean the Bureau of Land Management would need to either reopen closed motorized vehicle routes they have previously closed or build new ones if they get below a certain level of route density."

And that sounds pretty good.

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Introduced by Utah's Senator Mike Lee, the new legislation is designed to open up more of the approximately 640 million acres the Bureau of Land Management oversees that is "often unreachable for those with disabilities due to restrictions on motorized vehicles and limited road access." The legislation would mandate that for every square mile of "disability-accessible land", there would be "at least 2.5 miles" of trails open to motorized vehicles, including ATVs, UTVs, dirtbikes, adventure bikes, and off-roaders. 

Going further, and addressing recent closures that were less-than-transparent, the legislation would require, "Procedures for public notification and involvement in any proposed road closures, ensuring transparency and community participation in the management of public lands."

Upon the release of the proposed legislation, Senator Lee stated, "Our federal lands are a treasure belonging to all Americans, funded by their taxpayer dollars. Ensuring these lands are accessible to everyone is not just a matter of convenience but essential for allowing all citizens to explore the natural wonders our great country offers.”

All I can say is, no shit. 

See, my dad is disabled. He doesn't have much use of one of his legs from an accident nearly 40 years ago. And because of that, he can't hike or get into the woods like he once could. The only way he can is through some motorized form of transportation. So when he's by our house, he uses our family's Can-Am UTV. 

And that's true for many disabled Americans. 

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Disabled folks use UTVs, ATVs, motorcycles, and off-roaders to enjoy the great outdoors. And that's the case whether they're wheelchair-bound, injured, or have other limiting restrictions, such as weakened immune systems, diseases, or other debilitating health issues. Again, not everyone can hike. 

But they can't get into these more rugged areas when these closures occur. They're cut off from experiencing much of our national and state parks' wonders. And they're overlooked by the call to arms from both the hikers and campers who backpack in, as well as other off-roaders infighting with one another, and who don't understand that what we do is the same thing they do, just using different forms of transportation.

I'm guessing this discourse and these closures are especially infuriating as the US Forest Service even offers a free lifetime access pass for those with permanent disabilities. But what's the use if you can't actually access those forests?

Hopefully, this legislation helps set people straight, as well as remind folks that not everyone is able-bodied. Not everyone can backpack in, nor hike a trail. 

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