Special county park opens Oct. 7
A new park in the Tucson Mountains foothills will soon open the desert world that helps define southern Arizona but has largely been closed to thousands of physically disabled residents.
The physically disabled can enjoy nature trails starting Oct. 7 at Feliz Paseos, or “happy trails,” the first park in Arizona designed specifically to meet their needs, county officials say.
The grade of the trails in the 50-acre park is flat enough for wheelchair users and others at risk of falling over, although the park is meant to serve all people.
About 82,000 Pima County residents were physically disabled last year with “a condition that substantially limits one or more basic physical activities such as walking, climbing stairs, reaching, lifting, or carrying,” the U.S. Census Bureau estimates. That was 9 percent of the county’s population, or two percentage points lower than the national average.
Expect more accessible trails and other recreational facilities in the future. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 means governments must build recreational facilities that disabled people can use.
Master plans for state and Tucson parks call for more accessible trails. Trails 2005, a report by Arizona State Parks, says accessible trails are a priority.
“Building this park is a step forward. People with disabilities want to enjoy the outdoors like everyone else,” says Peri Jude Radecic, director of public advocacy for the Arizona Center for Disability Law. “Now the county needs to go back and make sure all of the existing parks are accessible. Access to recreation needs to be a priority for local government.”
Bob Mora, a disabled and retired county employee who helped design Feliz Paseos, wants others to join him in his lifelong love for nature trails. Even a stroke two years ago couldn’t keep him from riding the trails in his motorized wheelchair.
“Since the stroke I’ve been outside more. I don’t feel restrained when I’m out here,” says Mora, who worked for the Health Department and the Pima County school superintendent. “I feel it’s very spiritual to be a part of nature.”
Paralyzed at birth due to a neurological disorder, Mora has been exploring nature trails all of his 65 years.
As a child Mora crawled on his arms in the jungles of Costa Rica. As an adult he’s motored through trails worldwide on his wheelchair.
Mora and others used the Universal Trail Assessment Process to design the park in a way that’s accessible to the disabled. That process was devised as a result of the federal act.
Six Pima County parks and one park in Oro Valley have trails that comply with the law, but they tend to be paved and in more urban locations than Feliz Paseos, county records show.
Tucson has no such hiking trails. But the city is identifying recreation needs for the disabled as a result of a settlement with the Justice Department last year over act violations, says Liana Perez, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs.
While the act requires accessible parks, the law wasn’t the motivation for Feliz Paseos.
Laural Park was inspired by the landscape nine years ago when she came up with the idea for the park. She wanted to save the land from the rapid residential development in the area.
At the edge of the Ironwood Forest National Monument, the park features plenty of ocotillo, prickly pear and other plants. Mule deer, coyotes and other animals are familiar sights.
Park, an Amphitheater Public Schools employee and a domestic abuse counselor, said she wanted to make sure the park was open to everyone, including the disabled.
Park contacted the property owner, who agreed to sell the land to the county for $750,000, less than she was about to sell it for a housing development, Park says. U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva helped secure funding for the land when he was a county supervisor.
Construction of Feliz Paseos, approved by voters in a 2004 bond election, brought the total cost to $1.6 million.
Feliz Paseos has four main trails, 1 1/4 miles of dirt paths and a quarter-mile of paved ones, along with ramadas and picnic tables. A tile landscape decoration will adorn the ramada at the front of the park.
The park adds to a list of places the disabled can now enjoy because of Mora’s work. He also helped get a viewing platform installed at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge near Arivaca and raised money for the Wonderful Outdoor World, a Walt Disney Co. program for inner-city children.
As construction workers recently put the final touches on Feliz Paseos, Mora sat in his wheelchair on one of the trails.
“I didn’t expect this much,” he says. “I’m very satisfied.”
IF YOU GO
What: The opening ceremony for Feliz Paseos, a park with trails designed for the disabled.
When: Oct. 7, 10 a.m.
Where: 1600 N. Camino de Oeste, just north of West Speedway Boulevard.
TRAILS FOR THE DISABLED
Other parks in Pima County have trails accessible for the disabled:
● Santa Cruz River Park
● Rillito River Park
● Lawrence District Park, 6777 S. Mark Road
● McDonald District Park, 4100 N. Harrison Road
● Linda Vista Neighborhood Park, 2600 Camino del Grijalva
● Cañada del Oro Riverfront Park, 551 W. Lambert Lane, Oro Valley
● Kay Stupy Sopori Neighborhood Park in Amado
Source: Pima County
DISABILITY AND FITNESS
Where do the disabled work out? The University of Arizona Disabled Resource enter offers a physical fitness facility that caters to those with special physical needs who want to work out. See the story in Monday’s Body Plus.