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ACCESSIBLE TRAILS — Retired pediatrician Doris Hammett is making a push for hiking trails that are accessible for physically disabled people.

Every day the weather is clear Dr. Doris Hammett puts on her sun hat and goes for a walk around the Smoky Mountain Health and Rehabilitation Center in Clyde where she is a resident. Hammett, who is 95 years old and has knee injuries and limited vision, uses her walker for stability as she exercises outdoors, which she says is beneficial to her health.

“I’m the only one,” Hammett said of her regular outdoor walks, which are limited to the parking lot and surrounding sidewalks at the rehabilitation center.

While some sidewalks leading to the parking area have cuts in the curb that permit easy access for residents in wheelchairs and those using walkers, other sections can be challenging, Hammett said. As she reaches one section of sidewalk with a standard curb, Hammett stops, stabilizes her walker and carefully steps up, or down, to continue her walk.

Hammett would like to see a walking trail accessible to handicapped and disabled residents built around the perimeter of the facility. She believes that if an accessible pathway were created on the facility’s grounds, other residents would use it along with her.

Although Hammett said that she and other residents are encouraged to walk in the hallways of the facility, it is better to be outside where they can see the sky and trees, enjoy sunshine and breathe in fresh air.

Getting exercise has great benefits to people with medical conditions such as osteoporosis, Hammett said. There are also psychological benefits to exercising in the outdoors, she pointed out.

Following her own advice, Hammett walks for 30 to 60 minutes outdoors each day, weather permitting. A retired pediatrician who is well-known to many in Waynesville, Hammett has a lifelong interest in outdoor activities. She used to own horses that she rode in her leisure time.

Hammett also is a former hiker who has spent many pleasant times walking on trails in Western North Carolina.

She has actively supported the development of the Mountains to Sea Trail in the state, which extends from Western North Carolina to the eastern shore. Last year Hammett was honored for her contributions to the completion of this 346.8-mile route over some of the highest mountains in the Eastern United States.

And now Hammett is focusing on trails for people with disabilities and limited mobility. People are behind the times when it comes to building these types of trails, she said.

“That’s definitely something that’s up and coming, (something) we’re trying to look at,” said Scott Crocker, state trails program manager and recreational trails program coordinator at North Carolina State Parks, speaking of accessible trails.

While some of these trails have been built in the state, their costs are deterrents to such projects, Crocker said. An average estimate to build an 8-foot wide, paved multi-access trail that meets Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards is $1 million per mile, he said.

While building these trails is worth the investment in terms of health benefits to people, their high cost can be prohibitive, he noted. And construction in mountain terrains can add to costs, Crocker said.

In this mountain region, there is at least one accessible trail built as part of the French Broad River Greenway system, Crocker said.

“The French Broad River Greenway is 10 feet wide and paved, which helps with accessibility,” said Lucy Crown, City of Asheville greenway program planner. “Each section was constructed to ADA standards that were in place at the time of construction.”

Another option for persons with limited mobility seeking outdoor experience is at the North Carolina Arboretum in south Asheville. There are wheelchair-accessible areas at the main garden areas, education and exhibit centers at the arboretum.

Acknowledging that she may not see an accessible trail at the Smoky Health and Rehabilitation Center in her lifetime, Hammett said that she believes progress will be made in the future.

Peggy Touchet, administrator for Smoky Mountain Health and Rehabilitation Center, declined to comment for this article.

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