Bringing Everyone to the Outdoors
Enjoying Missouri’s outdoors brings me countless hours of enjoyment and evokes an important sense of perspective to life’s challenges. Albert Einstein put it simply, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
Our natural world provides many sensations that we each experience differently. For those with disabilities, outdoor experiences are frequently shaped by the quality of opportunities available.
Accessibility to the outdoors jumped on my radar screen shortly after my high school graduation, when a close friend and a fellow Current River explorer was permanently injured in an auto accident. He worked hard for many months to improve and return to the river, but it was only possible with the assistance of dedicated friends and family.
Part of the Conservation Department’s mission carries an expectation that all citizens are given the opportunity to use, enjoy and learn about fish, forest and wildlife resources. The words “all citizens” are profound and challenging.
Even before the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Department was evaluating the accessibility of conservation properties. Eventually, we realized that to truly understand accessibility issues we should consult Missourians with physical and mental challenges to learn more about their desires.
For more than ten years, the citizen-led Disabled Accessibility Advisory Council has actively guided Department decisions on new construction and renovation projects from the viewpoint of people with disabilities. The group’s insight challenges us to exceed ADA guidelines wherever possible, and their ideas enhance the usability of hundreds of conservation facilities.
Many areas across Missouri now provide premier disabled fishing access. Good examples of these areas are James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area near Kansas City and Cooper Creek Access at Lake Taneycomo.
Similarly, statewide hunting opportunities abound through recognition of method exemptions, specially designed waterfowl blinds and deer stands, or by specially focused managed hunts for people with disabilities. Many accessible hunts are located on our conservation areas, but others are held in conjunction with the Missouri State Park System, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as numerous county governments.
Conservation programs are also expanding accessibility. Many interpretive programs accommodate participants with hearing loss (see article on page 4), including the Department’s annual Family Outdoor Skills Camp for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children held in partnership with the Missouri Conservation Agents Association and the Missouri School for the Deaf.
To learn more about accessible trails, hunting and viewing blinds, fishing docks, boat ramps, shooting ranges and other facilities near you, I encourage you to contact a Department office or explore our online Conservation Atlas (www.missouriconservation.org).
Whenever the Department receives a letter of thanks for providing extra accommodations for the disabled, I am reminded of my friend and the power of the Current River to his limited recovery. Every Missourian should have equal opportunity to discover their own outdoor experience, and we hope to make more outdoor memories accessible in the future.
John D. Hoskins, Director