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Release: Dec. 1, 2000

Law students help design Hickory Hill Park accessibility options

IOWA CITY -- Student interns from the Legal Clinic Program at the University of Iowa are hopeful that their alliance with the Johnson County Coalition for Persons with Disabilities on the Hickory Hill Park Trail Plan will result in the city making all of its parks accessible.

This Saturday, third-year law students Allison Bliss and Matthew Scoll, and architectural consultants Dunbar/Jones of Des Moines will meet for their first joint walk-through of the park, an event Bliss hopes will also show the consultants the park's uniqueness. The tour also involves the Coalition, the Friends of Hickory Hill, and other interested persons and is being held now to highlight some of the community's concerns about changes to the park.

Bliss and Scoll succeed law students Jamie Bachtell and Glen Houghtaling as Clinic interns who during the past year worked with the Coalition to develop plans, improvement guidelines, and a priority list of changes that need to be made to make the park more accessible to persons with disabilities.

Scoll says the Clinic has played an instrumental role in its representation of the Coalition, and says he, Bliss, and Len Sandler, clinical law professor who supervises the students' work, served as advisors, and answered questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act and Access Board recommendations.

"One of our goals has been to empower the Coalition to achieve its goal and to push forward changes that would maintain the park's natural beauty while improving accessibility.

"Such changes hinge on the width and composition of park trails. Six-foot-wide, crushed limestone trails throughout the park would go a long way toward achieving the Coalition's goal, Scoll said.

The Coalition has proposed to the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Commission that a trail be developed in the Upper Park and that benches and cement pads be installed offering persons using mobility devices opportunities to experience the park's overall views. The Coalition has also suggested that an accessible path be developed in the Lower Park and that a looped trail be established to connect First Avenue park trail with Hickory Hill Park.

The students at the Legal Clinic partnered with the Coalition after having conducted public surveys and audits of the park, suggested to the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Commission, improvements in parking, bench seating, overlooks and other features viewed as accessibility barriers. The changes were suggested based on research of ADA law and ADA Accessibility Guidelines. Many of those proposed changes have already been integrated into the park plans revised by Dunbar/Jones this month.

The high-charged energy that might have led the two park interest groups to be divided initially, has abated, Bliss says, and been replaced with what she and Scoll believe is a near agreement on park changes that would allow the entire community to enjoy the park's beauty.

"Things are in the fine tuning stages, and although some issues remain unsettled, such as should the trails be pedestrian or multi-use trails," Scoll said. He said he believes all of the proposed changes can be done within the $500,000 in funding allocated to the park improvement project.

Len Sandler, clinical professor of law, has supervised the students' work on the project.

For more information on the students' role in the Hickory Hill Park project, or to view accessibility surveys and audits of the park, contact Bliss, Scoll, Bachtell or Houghtaling at the UI Legal Clinic at (319) 335-9023.