Thursday, August 02, 2007

Accessability at Panther Creek

When you live in East Tennessee, dealing with the rugged landscape of mountains and hills is a way of life. Most people I know own vehicles that are capable of driving on the harshest roads imaginable in this part of the country, and that includes Nicole and myself. In much of East Tennessee, a morning or evening stroll will be a walk uphill or downhill.

The need to deal with the beautiful but less-than-perfect lay of the land where mobility is concerned extends to those with disabilities as well. As people make certain that their motor vehicles can handle the stress of mountain roads, so must those with disabilities make sure that they have personal body transport that can move over all kinds of terrain. When I got my current power chair, I made certain that it was built to handle a large amount of stress and could move up and down the steepest hill. The chair has performed admirably under the harshest "driving conditions" that East Tennessee can dish out to it-and it has a life-saving set of spring shocks. The little chair probably can't make it up Clingman's Dome, but it has handled some real whoppers without so much as the threat of tipping over. I have had more trouble with sidewalks than the mountains in my power chair.

Even so, the hill country can make some things difficult, and I learned today that there are things the State of Tennessee could do to lessen the burden where its own facilities are concerned.

Nicole and I had some spare time as both of us had the morning off, and we decided to join Nicole's Grandmother's husband, Joe (it is her second marriage, as she had been widowed) for breakfast. Afterwords we went up to Panther Creek State Park just outside of Morristown for a look at the beautiful view of the Holston River and Cherokee Lake. I've been to Panther Creek before, and since much of the trails at the park are well-paved I thought nothing of not taking my chair there since I never had trouble getting around the park before-especially since you can drive up to the overlook. When we got there today, I had no more trouble than usual at first. There was one twist that would make today different than other days: Today I had to use the restroom.

What I did not know what that someone apparently decided that it would be a good idea to put the park restrooms in the non-camping area on a high hill above the hill the overlook happens to sit on. Sure, if I had my chair with me I could have navigated that hill without a problem. I didn't have my chair though, and I had to hike up the hill instead. Not only was I not wearing hiking boots, I had no idea that getting to the restroom would be so much trouble. Had Nicole and Joe not been there to assist me I surely would have fallen. Three different times I lost my footing, and Nicole saved me from slipping on the dirt and rolling down the hill. To keep my balance I had to hold my walker in a cockeyed position, which itself could have in turn caused me to lose my balance anyway. I made it to the top, but Joe brought his car up the hill to get me down. This was in violation of park rules, but at this point we did not give a damn.

The experience raised a number of questions, not the least of which was why on earth they could not simply have put the restrooms right near the overlook instead of up the hill-at the very least they could have had a portajohn or two nearby. I could have brought my chair that would have made it up that hill, but there may be visitors who would not have that option. Yes, there was a sidewalk on the opposite side of the hill that we were on, but it was still steep enough that some people may not have been able to climb the hill (and I could not have gotten to it from where I was without walking all the way around the hill).

This is a State Park, so why hasn't someone thought of this glaring legal violation before the State of Tennessee gets sued to kingdom come by somebody who can't make it up that hill to relieve themselves (or worse, falls while attempting it)? Are our parks officials just that ignorant, or do they even care?

Yet another day in the saga that is our ever-corrupt and high-handed State government. They can raise our taxes to kingdom come, but they can't put restrooms where all visitors can access them in a popular State Park.

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