Adapt and conquer: A dog's-eye perspective of ADA- accessible outdoor recreation

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Sit and stay home? Never! With the help of her family and a little equipment, Noodle adapts so she can enjoy plenty of outdoor play time.

This week on Adventure Awaits we welcome a very special guest blogger. Meet Noodle and her human parents (and interpreters) Bree and Kyle Corbin of Mount Vernon! We are proud to have Noodle — also known as “Noodster Scootster” — here to talk about accessibility in outdoor recreation for people and animals. Follow her adventures on her blog and on Instagram @noodsterscootster!

State Parks: Hi Noodle, and welcome to Adventure Awaits! Thank you so much for joining us. Please, tell us a little bit about yourself:

Noodle: Well, not much is known about me before I was brought to Everett Animal Shelter. Once there, it was discovered that my back legs would not function for walking due to a traumatic spinal cord injury. Fortunately, I had great care! I was given my first set of wheels at 3 months old and haven’t looked back. I’m known as “The girl with rear-wheel drive.”

SP: That’s so awesome! What happened after you got your wheels?

N: I took off down the hallway ready to begin my life! Several weeks later, I was adopted by the Corbins, who have a background in physical therapy and specifically neurological injuries and diseases.

My parents’ favorite activities are hiking and camping. I absolutely love being outside too, and I have been to several state parks in the year I have lived with them. These include: Larrabee, Deception Pass, Cama Beach Historical, Bay View,  Moran and Pearrygin Lake state parks. All of these parks are listed as having Americans with Disability Act (ADA) —compliant  features. I recognize that my needs and accessibility are different from humans. But ADA accessibility is one of the things my family looks for in a hike or outdoor adventure.

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A happy, active family, the Corbins take getting outside seriously. Left to right is Kyle, Noodle, Samson (who recently passed away) and Bree.

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Kyle and Noodle (as a puppy) at Deception Pass State Park.

SP: Noodle, tell us a little bit about what “adaptability” means to you, how it relates to accessibility and why it’s so important to dogs like yourself, senior dogs and also to humans with different abilities.

N: Adaptability has a lot of meanings, but for someone with physical challenges, adaptability is vital to his or her life. Environments need to be adaptable, equipment needs to be adaptable and the individual’s notion of what is possible needs to be adaptable. 

Since adopting me, my humans’ vision of hiking and camping has had to be adapted. Many trails are too steep for my strength or too narrow for my wheels, but this does not stop us from finding adventure and fun on other trails. It's all about adaptability!

Other activities we have adapted or discovered I can do are: Frisbee — yep, I can catch it mid-air — paddleboarding, swimming and biking.  Most recently we learned I also can snow ski!

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No Pacific Northwest outdoor enthusiast's kit would be complete without adaptation for snow and water Here's Kyle and Noodle on a winter adventure and Noodle out for a swim at Bay View State Park.

SP: Noodle, we sure do admire your spirit and love for the outdoors. Do you have any more pointers or words of advice for us?

N: Absolutely! Below are some pointers my parents have summarized both for special-needs dogs and humans on the trail. Take it away, mom and dad!

The Corbin’s tips for taking a special needs animal out on a trail:

Aside from our standard equipment and outdoor safety, here are a few things we have learned when hiking with Noodle. Many of these may also apply to hiking with people with disabilities as well.

✔ Consider the trail type, including width, distance, elevation and terrain.  Is the width of the trail feasible for the size of the scooter or adapted equipment? Is the length of the hike doable for your endurance level? Energy exertion is much higher when maneuvering in a scooter or with a prosthetic. 

Similarly, is the elevation of the hike feasible your adapted needs? Out-and-back hikes that start with a climb versus a descent are easier to judge return energy levels. Terrain type is important, too. A rocky trail means more lifting to help Noodle and her scooter over safely. Water crossings are no problem for our water-loving dog but are something to consider.           

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Noodle goes for a run at Cama Beach Historical State Park.

✔ Assess your own physical ability. Can you carry your pet in an emergency? If not, do you have an emergency pet harness like Pack-A-Paw to assist with carrying the pet? A regular harness with a handle has been indispensable for Noodle when hiking. We can use the top handle to safely lift her over rocks or roots that have proven too big for her to conquer alone. Remember: adaptability!

✔ Carry a set of tools and duct tape for emergency equipment repairs! This has happened a number of times for us already. You just never know, and there is nothing duct tape can’t temporarily fix.

✔ Do your homework before you go. Humans with a desire to be outdoors and explore more trails need to consider similar safety precautions and do their homework before leaving. A great place to start is the interactive map on Washington State Parks website. There are many ADA-compliant trails, either paved or packed with material that can accommodate wheelchairs or other mobility devices.

✔ Be a knowledgeable hiking partner. Make sure you know what your animal or person's needs are. Hiking partners should be experienced in hiking but also knowledgeable of the individual with disabilities's needs. Make sure you or they carry their written health information in case of an emergency.

✔ You’ve got options and resources. Adaptable mobility equipment for recreation is expensive and often not covered by insurance. We recommend looking into local resources or grants. One community resource in Washington is Outdoors for All based out of Seattle.

✔ Reach out to other people with similar physical needs. What adaptations have they tried in the past? Which trails have worked for them? Social media is an amazing place to research and brainstorm with people of similar abilities.

✔ Last, but definitely not least, don’t be afraid to go outdoors! We have started on multiple trails and have had to turn around if the trail is not feasible for Noodle. We’ve missed quite a few viewpoints or waterfalls at the “end” of a trail. This is not a failure! We just remind ourselves that it’s the hike we are out to enjoy — not the end of the trail. We have learned to adapt for our betterment and for our Noodle. We hope you are not afraid to adapt and find your next adventure.

NOTE: Washington state parks require pets to be on a leash when in a park, both for their safety and that of others. However, where possible, we will make accommodations to provide access for animals with disabilities. If you or your pet require special accommodations, please let park staff know.

All photos courtesy of Bree Corbin.