Accessing Colorado - How different resources open the outdoors to people with disabilities


When looking to get outside and make memories with friends and family, disability should not be something that limits someone experiencing the outdoors.

Check out examples of accessibility in Colorado that make the outdoors available for people with disabilities.

Getting there

When trying to choose an activity, navigating parks and outdoor spaces can be overwhelming for people with disabilities. From knowing where accessible trailheads are, to knowing where to park, there can be uncertainties in getting started. Ashley Lyn Olson, who started, aims to make that experience easier.

Growing up as someone who loved hiking and camping, Olson did not let her paralysis at 14 stop her from experiencing the outdoors. 

​​“I started the website in 2006. The mission is to empower people with limited mobility, their friends and loved ones. “

Her international site features city and park guides, hotel reviews, plane tips, tour companies and adaptive activities. She has the voices of more than 300 writers on the site. 

Her goal? Share her travel experience, and let others share theirs, all in hopes that it makes traveling to that location easier for the next person. 

Olson doesn’t always follow the “accessible” path though. Checking out things on her own, she has tried many trails that do not boast accessibility, but she thought looked flat enough for her chair. This way she opens up more options for people in the future who check out her site.

Not every path she tries ends up being chair-friendly. 

“I’ve definitely got myself into jams,” she said. Olson explained how she has ended up with her wheels stuck, falling out of her chair, even losing a shoe. But her love of adventure propels her forward. 

Local opportunity 

Staunton State Park near Pine started its track chair program in 2017, which allows people with limited mobility the freedom to explore trails of the park. Track chairs are all-terrain wheelchairs.

The program currently has four chairs, with another one on the way, and recently gave one to Barr Lake State Park near Brighton. Track chair program manager Natalie Burnside-Bostow says this chair hand-off was an important step in the program’s mission of accessibility. 

“One of our biggest goals is to continue to see our program spread to other parts (of Colorado), and to see other parts of Colorado build these types of programs,” Burnside-Bostow said.

The program at Staunton sees people of all ages and all ability levels. 

“We get everything. Last weekend I had a 2-year-old, the week before that I had someone that it was their 91st birthday,” Burnside-Bostow said.

Most importantly, the program looks to break down barriers that many people with disabilities face in accessing the outdoors. 

In working with this program, Burnside-Bostow explains that while there may be perceived roadblocks, “No matter what the activity, there is a way to adapt the activity so everyone can participate.”

The National Sports Center for the Disabled is an organization based in Denver that offers outdoor experiences across Colorado for people with disabilities.

During their fall/winter season, the NSCD offers rock climbing, hiking/snowshoeing, adaptive alpine and cross-country skiing, shooting sports and more.

Kim Easton, the CEO for the NSCD, says that the programs the organization offers keeps people coming back.

“The majority of our individuals, once they find us and try something…..they kind of get hooked.”

The NSCD is powered by volunteers that share their passion for sports and outdoors. The organization is coming up on its 52nd year of operation.

Moving forward

The Outdoor Equity Grant Program, established by Colorado House Bill 21-1318, wants to “increase access and opportunity for underserved youth and their families to experience Colorado’s open spaces, state parks, public lands, and other outdoor areas,” according to the program’s website. 

This program could prove instrumental in helping disabled youths be able to experience the outdoors in Colorado. 

Kenny Maestas is the legislative coordinator for the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition. He has been working on the grant program with representatives and senators from Colorado, making sure the CCDC is heard. 

The grant coalition is made up of board members, including youth seats. Maestas said he sees the importance of young people being able to have access to the outdoors in a geographically diverse state.

“And to live in one of the most beautiful states and never get to experience anything is a crime, I think,” Maestas said. 


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