Woman lobbies for more accessible Vail | VailDaily.com

Woman lobbies for more accessible Vail

Scott N. Miller

VAIL ” Sitting through a presentation about the new look of Lionshead, it was easy to think, “They’ve thought of everything.” Until Sarah Will started asking questions.

Will, a legend in disabled skiing circles, is now devoting her attention to making her adopted hometown as welcoming as possible for people with disabilities.

At a recent meeting Vail Resorts Development Company held to discuss the Lionshead streetscape project, consultant Margaret Sewell gave a long presentation about plans for the area around the old Gondola Building.

Those plans include a half-dozen different kinds of street pavers, a variety of wooden signs for shops, planters, overhead lighting and other design features intended to evoke the feeling of a European village.

The vision seemed complete. Then Will started asking how well a person in a wheelchair will be able to negotiate the numerous fancy pavers.

The answer came quickly.

“Our goal is a smooth surface with the impression of cobblestone,” Sewell said.

Other questions followed, about where stairs would be, whether there would be ramps to the same places, and so on.

“It seems like with the new construction, it ends up worse than it was,” Will said.

Will has applied for a consultant’s position with both the town of Vail and Vail Resorts, but has yet to land a job. So now, as a private citizen, she’s asking questions early and often.

But making Vail a more accessible place isn’t just for the disabled.

“We need to consider what our adventure sports stores are selling,” Will said. “How does this fit with scooters and skates? Then there are the families with strollers.”

People in ski boots often prefer ramps to stairs, Will said, especially at the end of a day on the hill. That makes accessibility good business, she said.

“We boast of our treatment and rehab centers,” she added. “That means we have people around town in walkers, or in casts. We want to get these people as permanent visitors, or residents.”

One early stage of the town’s redevelopment didn’t hit the goals Will said she would like to see. A batch of new street pavers on a portion of lower Bridge Street weren’t manufactured correctly, resulting in large gaps between the concrete blocks. That made getting up and down the street tough for people in wheelchairs, or parents pushing strollers.

“It was so bumpy my feet would fall out of the chair,” Will said.

In late November, crews replaced the pavers.

“We called it to the attention of the manufacturers, and they took a better look at quality control,” said Scott Bluhm, the town’s on-site supervisor for the Vail Village streetscape project.

After the pavers were replaced, lower Bridge Street is reportedly less bumpy than it was. The same attention to detail will be important at the Lionshead project, too.

“That’s not a town project, but we’ll be looking over their shoulders at the quality of the work,” Bluhm said.

And when Will and others speak up, people seem to be listening.

“She’s got a point of view,” Bluhm said. “We’re trying to accommodate and listen to it.”

Will mostly just wants to be able to live and play in Vail, she said.

“Anything that makes a place more accessible makes the difference between going out and staying in,” she said. “I want to live in a town where people go out.”

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 613, or smiller@vaildaily.com.

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