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Editorial: Make nature available to all

A new wheelchair accessible trail nears completion in

A new wheelchair accessible trail nears completion in Kings Park, July 24, 2014. The DEC is nearing completion of Long Island's second wheelchair accessible trail, this one located in Kings Park. Credit: Johnny Milano

The call of nature is a powerful lure for Long Islanders. We love our parks, our forests and our waterways. For people with disabilities, however, the beauty and serenity of the outdoors can be a cruel tease because so little of it is accessible. But that's beginning to change.

A state program unveiled earlier this year by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo aims to open up our wilder spaces. Its first local success story was an accessible hiking trail completed in August in the state's Kings Park Natural Resource Area. Three other projects are planned. Hopefully, they are harbingers.

The $6-million program -- intended to increase access to hiking, hunting, fishing and boat launches -- is funding 50 projects statewide, but the financial commitment is only for the current year. Cuomo and the State Legislature should renew this worthy initiative.

People with disabilities who want to immerse themselves in nature have had limited options on Long Island. There are short nature trails in Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge in Shirley, the pine barrens in Manorville and Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island. A few years ago, the state Department of Environmental Conservation completed an accessible loop trail around Randall Pond in Ridge.

Now the DEC, carrying out Cuomo's initiative on lands it owns, is ramping up its plans. Next up is an accessible duck blind on the Peconic River in Riverhead that can be used for fishing and wildlife viewing out of season, another loop trail in Ridge with accessible mounting stations for equestrian usage, and a loop trail in Underhill Preserve in Jericho with wildlife viewing platforms over one of the kettle ponds there. All will have such features as accessible signage and fences of appropriate heights. Strollers and whatever equipment people with disabilities require will be allowed, but no all-terrain vehicles or dirt bikes.

Opportunities to enjoy the outdoor world will become even more critical as Long Island continues to age. We are all a part of nature. We all should have access to the inspiration and joy it provides.