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The Pinelands is for Everyone

Making natural places more accessible for individuals with disabilities

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Getting outdoors in nature is good for our health and well-being.  Studies have shown that if people feel safe, time in nature can lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, and improve mood among many other benefits.

Despite being the most crowded state in the nation, New Jersey has a large amount of preserved open space, with most of it being within the Pinelands National Reserve. The forests, streams and ponds found here are a vital resource for the health and wellbeing of residents and visitors.

Man in wheelchair viewing a pond
Andie and Nick enjoying the well-maintained Red Trail at Atsion Recreation Area, Wharton State Forest in the NJ Pinelands. Photo credit: PPA.

Unfortunately, access to the vast natural areas found in the New Jersey Pinelands can be difficult if not impossible for people with physical or other disabilities.  Visiting natural places can be uncomfortable, unsafe or impossible. Barriers include a limited number of trails that are advertised and maintained as wheelchair-accessible and a lack of comprehensive and reliable information on the accessible places that do exist.

In 2021 PPA launched The Pinelands is For Everyone project. We are allying with individuals with disabilities, organizations dedicated to the welfare of those with disabilities, and public and private landowning agencies to help overcome these barriers so everyone can enjoy the benefits of time in nature by visiting the parks, forests and preserves which our state and communities have protected.

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As a key starting point and foundation we held held two virtual “Town Hall” meetings and several focus group conversations to learn about the challenges and solutions to making natural places in and around the Pinelands accessible for the use and enjoyment of people with disabilities. These conversations included individuals with a variety of physical and intellectual/developmental disabilities, caregivers, and professionals who work in the disability healthcare and services fields.

Read the Report

We summarized what we learned in this document, A Report on Learnings From Town Hall Meetings and Focus Groups About Access to Natural Places for People With Disabilities. Read the report in Spanish Los Pinelands es para todes – Un informe sobre lo aprendido or listen to the audio reports below.

Informe de audio en Español
Audio report in English

We are very fortunate to have the financial and moral support of the Inclusive Healthy Communities program sponsored by New Jersey’s Department of Human Services, Division of Disability Services and the members of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance to make this work possible.

The Project

PPA is teaming with extraordinary individuals and partner organizations to:

Create forums for people with disabilities and caregivers to be heard. We are listening and learning about the challenges people face and how we can work together to overcome those challenges. We have already held virtual town hall meetings and smaller focus group conversations (see more on these below).  We will launch a regular Access Nature Forum and newsletter in the fall 2022.  Let us know if you want to join the conversation by signing up on our email list at the bottom of this page.

Publish a mobile-friendly web site to provide detailed information and images of trails and scenic locations that are accessible to at least some degree.  We will publish the web site soon, in September 2022. Let us know what you think of the site and how you suggest we improve it!

Help State, local and nonprofit land managers create more accessible trails and improve facilities with people with disabilities in mind. For relatively little cost and with lots of volunteer help, we can upgrade many existing sand trails to make them more firm, flat and stable, and make other improvements.

Help people become comfortable exploring natural areas by offering guided nature trips that are designed for everyone, including people with disabilities, through our Pinelands Adventures outfitter. We are currently researching sites and working with partners to design great trips, which we aim to start offering to the public in October 2022. We are also testing all-terrain wheelchairs to lend to participants for use on these nature trips.

Show the world that everyone can enjoy the joys of nature in the Pinelands.  We aim to use images, videos and testimonials to show people with disabilities, caregivers, land managers and the general public that everyone can explore the Pinelands if appropriate trails, facilities and programs are made available. If you have pictures and experiences you are willing to share with others, please let us use them to spread the word.

Project Partners

PPA is the leading environmental constituency-building and advocacy organization for the protection and enjoyment of the New Jersey Pinelands, an ecologically unique region of 1.1 million acres in Southern New Jersey. In addition to support from the State’s Division of Disability Services, we are privileged to be working with a growing circle of terrific partners, including: 

Disability Rights New Jersey (DRNJ) protects, advocates for and advances the rights of persons with disabilities in pursuit of a society in which persons with disabilities exercise self-determination and choice and are treated with dignity and respect.

Hopeworks is a social enterprise that uses technology, healing, and entrepreneurship to transform lives. Its unique trauma-informed approach, combined with high-demand, high-wage technical training and paid work experience helps young people get jobs and keep them.

Kingsway Learning Center and Services provides an alternative educational environment designed specifically for the academic, therapeutic, social, and emotional development of students with multiple disabilities. Kingsway brings its clients to PPA’s Rancocas Creek Farm for volunteer workdays and will lead training sessions on serving people with disabilities as a partner in this project.

MOCEANS Center for Independent Living is a non-residential, consumer-controlled, community-based charitable organization that provides information, instruction and support for people living with disability, their families, friends and allies in the community. It is their mission to promote public awareness and barrier-free access in the community while supporting individual choice, advancing the independent living philosophy, promoting the civil rights and inclusion of all people living with disabilities.

Pemberton Township in Burlington County owns and has management responsibility for the Pemberton Lake preserve. PPA is working with Pemberton Township to maintain and improve the trail along the Lake Shore as a demonstration project in making existing sand trails more accessible. As part of the implementation of the Pinelands Is for Everyone initiative, Pemberton Township is dedicated to assisting with the new wheelchair-accessible trail construction, monitoring its use, and advertising its availability.

Rowan Integrated Special Needs (RISN) Center at Rowan University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine, provides family-centered, continuous, comprehensive, coordinated, compassionate, and culturally-competent health care for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and behavioral health issues. RISN will be an important participant in the Access Nature Forum and advisors on program and material development as a part of this project.


Videos and Town Hall Discussions

See the videos and replays of our town hall discussions that have informed this project. Topics include nature trail evaluations and the work we are doing with some of our partners.  You can also take our survey and share feedback about your nature experiences.

Get Project Updates

Sign up to stay informed about this project.  You will be notified about opportunities to get involved and share feedback. Questions? Contact Carleton at carleton@pinelandsalliance.org


This initiative was funded (or funded in part) by an Inclusive Healthy Communities Grant from the Division of Disability Services, New Jersey Department of Human Services.

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