Remembering the woman who opened the parks to people with disabilities
March 27, 2001
If you're disabled and you plan to visit America's national parks this summer, you should raise a toast in memory of Wendy Carol Roth of Santa Barbara, Calif.
Roth, who died March 14 from complications related to multiple sclerosis, was the driving force behind many of the recent improvements in access to U.S. parks.
She began her campaign for easier access after a disappointing trip to Grand Canyon National Park. Roth, who used a wheelchair, found herself stranded in the parking lot when she tried to experience the grandeur of this national treasure.
Like most of the disability-rights activists who have worked hard to make America a much more accessible place over the last 30 years, Roth used her frustrating personal experiences as motivation.
Instead of avoiding barriers, she confronted them head-on. Along with her husband, Michael Tompane, Roth traveled 32,000 miles through 41 states between 1988 and 1992, to visit 37 national parks, monuments and parkways. The result was the 1992 publication of the book "Easy Access to National Parks: The Sierra Club Guide for People with Disabilities." It chronicled their adventures and offered advice for making the experience as fulfilling as possible for others with disabilities.
Roth and Tompane then teamed up with the National Park Foundation, a nonprofit affiliate of the National Park Service, which carries out park improvement projects. They founded Easy Access Park Challenge, a project of the foundation, which has improved access to more than 100 of the 384 national park sites. Roth and Tompane raised money, coordinated volunteers and provided the leadership necessary to make it all happen.
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, the largest urban park in the world, illustrates the range of creative accessibility projects that Roth and Tompane spearheaded. In the Fort Funston section of Golden Gate is a wheelchair-accessible hiking trail. On Alcatraz Island, where it's virtually impossible for someone using a wheelchair to climb the long steep path that leads to the cellblocks, television monitors were installed at the base of the prison to provide a video tour.
Whether Roth's activism resulted in a paved path in the woods, a platform on a scenic vista or a more accessible campground, she made it possible for people with disabilities to see things we've never seen before.
"Recreation and the solace of nature can be a great healer and should be available to all," Roth wrote in her book.
For her role in making her sentiments a reality, we are all in her debt.
Mike Ervin is a Chicago-based writer and an activist with ADAPT (Americans Disabled for Attendant Programs Today). He can be reached at email@example.com.