Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory at Fort Knox State Historic Site made Accessible
Kent Cooper and Eric Dibner
The new Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory (PNB&O) at Fort Knox State Historic Site is a major tourism success, with praise and compliments from all who visit these landmarks.
To ensure that the experience of this spectacular site and the Observatory tower would be accessible for all visitors, including people who are blind or who have other disabilities, State agencies teamed up to create multi-format tour materials. The tour includes an audio version of all interpretive panels at the site and describes the views. Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Conservation (DOC), which manage the site, partnered to create alternate format materials for both the PNB&O and Fort Knox.
Staff from the MaineDOT Office of Communications, Bureau of Project Development, Environmental Office, and Bridge Program consulted with the State ADA Accessibility Coordinator and Alpha One. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Maine’s Human Rights Act, public agencies are required to provide “effective communication” including alternative format materials for people with vision limitations. An MP3 player is one "alternate format" available at the Visitor Center. There is also a large print version of the material and a map keying the audio to various locations on the grounds. Next, the plan is to post the material on the State’s website.
Central to the task of creating accessibility is developing a “script” that tells the same story that sighted persons experience. The audio format includes information on visitor parking, restroom location, ticketing, service features, and the interpretive information presented visually at the site. There are twenty different topics covered, including general information about the on-loan audio player(s). The interpretive information describes the history of Fort Knox, the Waldo-Hancock Bridge, and the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory.
The view and features from the top of the Observatory are described - the geographic features of the Penobscot River and Bay, surrounding towns, lakes, mountains, and islands – as they are also identified by interpretive signage looking north, south, east, and west. The compass rose designed by Maine sculptor Andreas von Huene and set into the floor at the top of the Observatory is depicted, and visitors learn about the granite from nearby Mosquito Mountain in Frankfort, which clads the base of the tower, plaza, railings, benches, and Seal of the State of Maine.
The Fort Knox and PNB&O site was carefully designed to accommodate disabled visitors who use wheelchairs or who have other mobility impairments. Ramped pathways lead from accessible parking to the elevator where a lift can transport any visitor to the observation deck 420-foot up at the top of the tower. Accessible routes connect all exhibit areas. The effective communication connects visually disabled and other visitors to this important new regional tourism feature.