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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 February, 2005, 17:06 GMT
Trails open up to disabled bikers
By Michael Lloyd
For BBC Scotland's news website

Forestry Commission Scotland is helping to roll back the boundaries of physical activity for disabled people.

Mountain biking - generic
The aim is to widen access to the activity

The 7stanes trails on seven sites across the Borders are already a mecca for able-bodied mountain bikers.

But now Forestry Commission Scotland is opening up 7stanes facilities to disabled people, as part of a programme of improving access.

It claims plans to extend mountain biking for the disabled are unique in Scotland.

"Most disabled biking is provided in flat places like Blackpool," said project manager Karl Bartlett.

"Getting people into mountain biking at all levels is really important for us."

The trails recently won an award, the Marshall Kennedy Millennium Quaich, in recognition of the work done.

A one-kilometre extension has been built at Dalbeattie, which has been specially widened for wheelchair use and for disabled children using 'buggy' style bikes pulled by their parents.

We want to open up the trails to people with different types and levels of disabilities
Karl Bartlett
7stanes Project Manager

At the Kirroughtree site there is an adapted skills loop for disabled mountain bikers, bike hire and even a 'try before you buy' option for the specially adapted bikes, as they can be expensive.

"We need to make our region as accessible as possible to everyone," said Lindsay MacGillivray, of the local tourist board, which presented the Millennium Quaich.

She said the Quaich was given to 7stanes because Forestry Commission Scotland's plans are so imaginative.

"In the past disabled people have found they can't get full access to facilities or sometimes even accommodation so we need to make sure everyone can enjoy what is on offer in the area."

7stanes has also won praise from disabled people's advocacy and support agency, Capability Scotland.

Mountain biking - generic
Capability Scotland welcomed the initiative

The recognition that disabled people enjoy the outdoors, bikes and exercise is very welcome, according to Capability Scotland's Julie Laird.

"This sounds like a really forward-looking facility which is set to break down barriers," she said.

The Forestry Commission is not resting on its laurels. The organisation is proud of its efforts to make its facilities user-friendly for disabled people across the UK.

The commission recently redesigned way markers for trails, so that the shape of the marker as well as its colour shows the level of difficulty. This helps those who are partially sighted and colour-blind.

Mr Bartlett said a second phase is now being planned for 7stanes, to extend what is on offer and provide better opportunities.

There will be new trails that will cater for both mountain biking novices and for people with more profound disabilities.

He said: "We want to open up the trails to people with different types and levels of disabilities.

"It is important that disabled people get a real experience of mountain biking."

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