Wildfire

Supervisor Richard Elías
Pima County,
District 5

Honored

Bob Mora, Hiker Extraordinaire


Disability, shmisability. Bob Mora has never let his "disability" keep him from traveling around with world, living and working on the remote Navajo Indian Reservation, earning advanced college degrees, heading government programs and non-profit agencies, or being a world-class hiker.

Mora was born 65-odd years ago with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a degenerative disorder of the nerves and muscles that always has limited his mobility, for most of his decades has confined him to a wheelchair, and in 2008 it took his life.

Never mind the diability. Mora was active all his life, and at the forefront locally since moving to Tucson in 1978, of advocating for and developing accessibility for those with physical limitations. His first love is for getting out among the wonders of nature - which he legitimately calls hiking, even if done in a wheelchair.

Mora was a charter member of the committee Pima County put together under the guidance of former District Five Supervisor and now Congressman Raúl Grijalva to design and oversee the development of Feliz Paseos. Expected to open for public use around the first of July, Feliz Paseos is a 50-acre county park carefully designed for universal accessibility - and to provide various degrees of challenges for people with various types and levels of limited ability. See sidebar story.

"My philosophy was to not discriminate against the handicapped," he said. "Don't just set up a desert park for the handicapped. I wanted to set it up for people with various abilities so everyone can enjoy it. Not all disabled people have the same limitations ... Feliz Paseos is not entirely accessible to everyone - each user can pick his or her own level of challenge to experience."

Challenges clearly are what Bob Mora likes. In his life he has hiked and camped in many parts of the United States - and in Europe, in Canada and in Central America.

Mora was born in Costa Rica and raised first in New England, then in Florida. Despite his physical condition, his parents took him camping and on a variety of outings - which set the stage for his many subsequent endeavors.

He earned a degree from San Jose State University before disabled accessibility was common and went on to earn a master's degree from San Francisco State University. After college he worked with others to invent aides for those with limitations - a steering wheel for those who have only one usable hand and an electric arm that folds and lifts wheelchairs in and out of vehicles. "I enjoy challenges and working out solutions to problems," he told an interviewer in 1994.

He took a job on the Navajo Reservation, setting up a rehabilitation center in the remote community of Toyel. There he hiked and camped as much as he could, considering the sometimes difficult conditions there. "We were completely snowed in for two of the winters and the National Guard had to bring in supplies," he recalls.

Mora won a fellowship to work on a master's degree in public administration at the University or Arizona and arrived in Tucson in 1978. He took a job with Pima County, where he worked for 17 years. From 1981 to 1991 he directed the Health Department s Children's Evaluation Center; he then worked in the Superintendent of Public Instruction's office until retiring from the county in 1994.

But he remained active in many arenas. He helped get an accessible viewing platform installed next to a small lake in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge near Arivaca, raised money for the Wonderful Outdoor World program that gives low-income and disabled children a chance to experience nature, and served as president of the non-profit group Awareness to Access.

In the late 1990s, Laural Park came up with the idea of developing an accessible park on 50 acres of available land near her home in the Tucson Mountains foothills. The county bought the land for Feliz Paseos in 1998 and Mora was enlisted to serve on the planning committee, which he and Park co-chaired.

Mora, Park and Robie Pardee of the county's Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department eventually became certified by the Natural Center for Accessibility to develop trails under the sophisticated Universal Trails Assessment Process. They used digitized maps and satellite geographic imagery to lay out the Feliz Paseos trails and measure their grades, widths, cross slopes and other relevant conditions. This information will be on signs along the Feliz Paseos trails.

"I learned a lot about trails," he said. "I'm always learning about trails - I never stop, never."

And the people of limited abilities who are able to enjoy Feliz Paseos for many decades into the future will be forever grateful to Bob Mora and his thirst for challenges that helped enable them to experience more of nature, and thereby to enrich their lives.