It’s hard not to wonder why a small group of very vocal people feel compelled to keep an entire 2,000-acre park entirely the way they want it to be. I’m talking about Lebanon Hills Regional Park and the opponents of having a paved trail there.

I am a resident of Dakota County. I also served on the citizens panel that developed the compromises now included in the revised master plan for the park. Citizens panel members represented many perspectives, including opponents to paving, and every district in the county.

We were charged with coming to consensus, and over 10 months we accomplished that goal.

Those results, which can be downloaded from the county’s website, are now in the hands of the Dakota County commissioners. The county’s master plan for Lebanon Hills is proposing adding 6.5 miles of paved trail and enough additional unpaved trails to bring that total to 43 miles. The 6.5 miles of pavement would take up about 8 acres out of 2,000.

As I understand the citizens panel’s consensus, the county’s proposed high-speed “greenway” trail system would not enter Lebanon Hills. Instead, there would be a shared-use path that would connect to areas that need accessibility and would provide for bicycle travel. The shared-use path would be less about a high-speed thoroughfare than it would be recreational in nature. As a shared-use path, it would be less intrusive and there would be enforceable speed limits. Many hours of study and discussion led the citizens committee on our way to consensus.

I leave it up to the rest of you to do your due diligence with the final report and come to your own conclusions. We worked too hard to be dismissed by a few people who haven’t gotten everything they want.

I am a disabled veteran and a wheelchair athlete. My recreational and sporting activities all involve having wheels under me. That means I need a hard surface that can handle my chair or hand cycle and that can provide a safe and independent experience.

Are there other parks where I can use my chair? Yes. But that doesn’t mean that Lebanon Hills should be off-limits to me or others, including older people who need a level surface for walking, or parents pushing strollers, or any who need any other mobility device.

Opponents of having any pavement on the park claim it will degrade their experience. Again, this spacious park can and should accommodate many diverse activities and be welcoming to everyone. Birders would still be able to walk natural trails. Runners who prefer soft surfaces would have 43 miles at their disposal. And I, with others who use mobility devices, could enjoy a portion of the park.

I’m not asking to have access to every corner of this regional urban park. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require total access. However, as an urban park, Lebanon Hills must adhere to a set of requirements and guidelines set forth by the ADA. The alternative needs to be avoided. The Department of Justice considers noncompliance as a civil rights issue and it will vigorously pursue the matter as a discrimination case.

What I ask for is reasonable accommodation. I am willing to share the rest of the park with those who want to retain a natural and unpaved experience. The revised park plan offers a workable compromise for everyone.

 

Todd Kemery, of Lakeville, is advocacy director for the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Minnesota.