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Silver Comet Trail allows scooters, thanks to Cobb man


The AJC
Published on: 04/03/08

Bob Hintz can't help but chuckle every time he confesses to being an activist.

Getting involved in a cause just wasn't in his DNA. He'd teach Sunday school, be a friend to those in need, and generally be a good person.

 

But pushing an agenda and fighting the establishment weren't part of the plan.

Life can be funny that way funny ironic, anyway.

Hintz, 68, can't walk anymore. In fact, he can't stand for more than a few seconds at a time. And he wants to know why people can't take their motorized scooters on the Silver Comet Trail.

Hintz suffers from a condition called CIDP, or chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, in the less-than-layman's term. He describes it as a multiple sclerosis like condition that affects mostly his arms and legs.

An avid outdoorsman before he came down with the disease in the 1980s, Hintz had to give up tennis and jogging for walking and hiking. With time, those activities have been taken from him, too. The disease wasn't as restrictive until the last couple of years.

"I went from normal walking to difficulty in walking to walking with a walking stick to having to use a walker," he said.

"A year ago I had to give up driving," he said. "Each time I was faced with an increased loss of mobility and had to 'surrender ground' to the disease, it was extremely difficult."

But he still loves nature, still wants to see the sunset and likes the smell of spring. And his grandchildren and great-grandchildren love the Silver Comet Trail. So Hintz figured that was perfect. He'd take his scooter, plug along at a slow walking pace, and spend time with his family.

But the PATH Foundation, which oversees the Silver Comet Trail and other paths, would not allow it.

"They simply told me that on all of their PATH trails, you could use an electric wheelchair, but not scooters," he said.

In an e-mail to Hintz, PATH Executive Director Ed McBrayer writes: "We obviously have a stake in the trails we help build, and many look to us for guidance, but ultimately it IS up to the local jurisdictions as to where they draw the 'motor' line. I respect your position, I still contend that there should be some places where cyclists and pedestrians can go where they have a reasonable expectation of a nonmotorized experience. I don't know how one scooter can be allowed and not another. This is just my opinion. In your opinion, should Segways be allowed? How about motor-assisted bicycles?"

Hintz, the new activist that he is, also contacted Paulding and Cobb counties. Cobb's Parks and Recreations Department and Board of Commissioners Chairman Sam Olens were delightful, he said.

In an exchange of e-mails, which is Hintz's preferred method of activism, Eddie Canon, Cobb's director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs said: "We do not have a problem with electric handicap scooters on the Silver Comet Trail. We have a few requests for this and have allowed it in the past. ... After your e-mail we are doing some research on other similar trails across the country to see how they handle this and what language/rules they may have in place to address this situation."

He was told to use the trail and given a name and phone number to call if he ever has a problem there.

Problem solved for Hintz. But that's not good enough.

What about the disabled people who won't raise a stink? Until PATH clearly changes the rules and welcomes scooters for the disabled, Hintz's work isn't done.

"I used to wonder what the big deal was, why so much attention or money is dedicated for the handicapped," he said. "How are we spending so much tax money on things so few will use? I'm ashamed that I was that way. Now, I'm thinking that there can't be enough done for the disabled. And it's not for me. I have a place in the mountains I can go and ride, and I now have been told I can go to the Silver Comet. But until everyone has that right, I'm not satisfied."

McBrayer said he didn't want to sound as if he was unsympathetic to Hintz's cause.

"This trail was envisioned to be nonmotorized," he said. "That's how it was funded, and that's what people wanted. But I do respect Mr. Hintz. Ultimately, whatever the counties want to enforce will be the law."