Accessibility to Duluth parks and city facilities in need of improvement

By KBJR News 1

March 14, 2014 Updated Mar 14, 2014 at 6:13 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- A survey to determine the quality of accessibility to Duluth's parks, for people with disabilities, shows nearly all the city's parks and facilities reviewed have poor access.

The Duluth Parks and Rec. department has embarked on a mission to change that.

JQP, an accessibility consulting firm, conducted site visits to city facilities and 20 parks in Duluth in 2013.

They wanted to determine which facilities and parks meet current Americans with Disabilities Act standards, and to see what improvements should be made.

"All of them had some components of the facility being an issue," said Kathy Bergen, manager of Duluth Parks and Rec.

However, only 20 of Duluth's 130 parks were reviewed... specifically, the 20 that ranked as having the most use.

Accessibility problems ranged from overly narrow sidewalks, trails, and paths, to no handicap accessible picnic tables, shelters, bathrooms, or parking.

"It would be like the slope of the ramp or the lip of a cement slab not meeting the grass and causing a tripping hazard," said Bergen.

All city buildings reviewed had similar access problems for those with physical disabilities.

The reasoning behind that, they say, is most buildings were constructed prior to accessibility design standards.

The study found facilities and parks that have been newly constructed or altered, do, in fact, incorporate features of accessibility.

For example, recent upgrades to Enger Park...

"We rebuilt the bathroom up there so all the fixtures inside it, we made sure that they met all of the current standards," said Bergen.

City parks and recreation officials say upgrades will be made as regular maintenance checks are completed.

"A lot of places in Duluth aren't wheelchair accessible."

The issue hits home for Northlander Bryce Petrvich, who has a family member in a wheelchair.

City Councilor Sharla Gardner says she thinks Duluth is doing fairly well in terms of accessibility, but says what matters most is movement toward improvements.

"We have a responsibility as a city to make sure that everybody is able to access them," said Gardner.

Projects to upgrade bathrooms and steep terrains, like at Chambers Grove, are already in line for improvement this year.

Funding comes from grants and the city's parks fund.

Elsa Robins