Friday, October 21, 2016

New Visitor Center at Walden Pond

Walden Pond is well known as the former haunt of famous American literary figure Henry David Thoreau. Once upon a time it was a rural area where Henry left the stresses of town life to live for 2 years, 2 months and 2 days during the mid-19th century in a simple one room cabin of his own creation. Nowadays, though one cannot fully escape the sounds of traffic in the forested area, Walden Pond State Reservation still offers beauty and tranquility to over 275,000 visitors per year, who come from all over the world for a grand mix of history, recreation, education and appreciation of Henry David Thoreau's native voice. A replica of Henry's cabin next to the parking lot offers visitors the chance to experience the space he built for under $30 in his day, with a statue of him nearby. Trails in the park can take you to the original cabin site, which is a celebrated national landmark.

A brand new visitor center is opening this fall at Walden Pond State Reservation in Concord, Massachusetts. I stopped in recently to find both the bathrooms and the Thoreau Society gift shop open in a stunningly beautiful and accessible new building. The exhibit area is still being worked on and is not open yet, but the park was well-attended by people checking out the building and walking the extensive beach created by the drought. A bald eagle was circling over the pond. Swimmers and paddlers were enjoying the sparkling water and peak autumn color. Walden Pond is a popular spot just outside of Boston that truly offers something enjoyable for everyone.

The terrain at Walden is challenging for full physical accessibility but many people with disabilities can enjoy some of  the beach and trails. The toughest spot in the main area of public use is the hill down to the swimming beach which can be walked or rolled on via a wide paved path. The beach can be accessed by car from the boat launch which has a small gravel and dirt parking area with some designated more accessible spots. Traversing the parking lot to the beach involves a gradual grade and some bumpiness over a short distance. The shoreline is hard packed for the most part and likely a relatively easy walking surface for many. The park has beach wheelchairs which require someone to push that are for use on the beach.

Park staff have also introduced a trails wheelchair this year which can be self-propelled or pushed by others. The trails at Walden are generally well worn and wide on moderate terrain with some rocks, roots and steeper grades. While some people with disabilities may find these trails manageable, others are likely to require assistance and/or adaptive equipment. For further information, contact Walden Pond park staff at 978-369-3254.

Walden Pond State Reservation is managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). DCR's Universal Access Program offers adaptive hiking programs at various state parks and typically comes to Walden Pond once a year. For further information on adaptive hiking programs, contact DCR's Universal Access Program at 413-545-5758. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Charles River Braille Trail

Two blocks down the street from the Perkins School for the Blind is a new Braille trail along the Charles River in Watertown, MA. The existence of the new Braille trail is an invitation for Perkins residents and students to come out and explore. While checking out the trail last month I met local walkers who verified that groups from Perkins had indeed been visiting this wonderful loop walk alongside the river.

Jerry Berrier, who is blind, works at Perkins, and consults with Massachusetts Audubon on their sensory trails, told me he thinks this is one of the best designed trails for people with visual impairments that he has experienced.

The Perkins School was one of several collaborators involved in developing the trail and assists in its maintenance. Other partners included the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the Town of Watertown, the Watertown Community Foundation and other local organizations. The Solomon Foundation was a major contributor of funds for the project. The combined efforts of both public and private partners is often what is necessary for such a successful result.

As I walked the trail, I kept my eyes closed most of the time, trying out the guide cable, running my fingers along the cable to each post, and feeling the large wooden beads along the way that indicate elements in the vicinity. A sphere means that there is a bench opposite the trail from the cable, a cube indicates a station or feature nearby, and a cylinder marks a station or feature on the opposite side. Triangular beads tell you what the other bead shapes mean, serving as a key. Since I don't read Braille I had to open my eyes to read the interpretive signage along the way describing the nature and history of the this delightful riverside spot.

Walking with eyes closed, I found it a bit daunting to navigate the transitions where the cable ends and another type of tactile element began. It helped a lot that I already had a visual overview of the area and trail concept. Although the transitions may be easier for those used to navigating with a cane or sighted guide, one suggestion for improvement would be to provide an introduction to the trail via website and audio tour, and maybe even a tactile map on site. The quarter mile long trail is a thin oval shape, fitting in neatly between the river and Charles River Road and connecting to a longer trail on both ends. There are signage stations along the perimeter and a sensory garden in the middle of the oval, entered both on the river side and the street side.

The sensory garden makes this trail unique in all the trails for people with visual impairments that I have walked. It is a beautifully designed space with a stripe of cobblestone underfoot as a tactile guide through the experiences offered there. The garden is edged in a combination of stone walls, trees, and logs cut to establish lines of short stumps and logs cut in longer lengths set cleverly together in an almost braided effect on the ground. Within the variable interactive boundary are a few attractions that are lovely to behold with eyes as well as hands, including 2 wooden rowboats commemorating the history of boat use on the river, a xylophone or marimba bench that can be played while you sit on it, and a large boulder with a grinding space evoking the lifestyle of the first people who lived in the vicinity.

On the west end of the oval - the side closest to Watertown square - nearby there are a few picnic tables accessible off the continuing trail. It would be nice to see a navigational extension for blind trail users to these tables. They are quite a statement, conveying the flow of the river in their design. A few of the benches along the Braille Trail share similar elements and provide lots of enjoyable resting spots.

The Charles River Braille Trail is located close to the intersection of Irving Street and Charles River Road. There is plenty of free street side parking for those arriving by car. DCR has installed a signalized pedestrian crossing to make it easier for those who are walking to access the site. Be aware that there are no restrooms on site or in the immediate vicinity. Plan accordingly and the Charles River Braille Trail is well worth the visit!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Set Sail with Community Boating This Fall!

Thanks Laila Soleimani for this post on Community Boating, a sailing club for all. Community Boating has offered sailing since 1936 and is a fantastic opportunity not to miss if you live in or near Boston or are planning a visit. Whether you are new to sailing or already experienced, the Charles River is a fun place to enjoy the urban landscape.
On August 16th, I had the wonderful opportunity to observe Community Boating's adaptive sailing program, which started with help from DCR’s Universal Access Program in 2003. I had been trying to check out CBI's adaptive sailing program for the last year, so I was very excited I was finally able to get there. Community Boating Inc. is located on the Esplanade along the Charles River in Boston with fantastic views of the city skyline. Upon walking up to the boathouse, I watched individuals of all ages  - from kids to teenagers to adults - excitedly entering the facility. There was a bright blue sign with black lettering that read "Sailing Here for All". When I walked in, I was greeted by Isaac Pato, the dockmaster, and his front desk staff. Within the first few minutes of being there, I witnessed first-hand the welcoming environment CBI provides to its community members and guests.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Want to Learn to Steer a Kayak? No Vision? No Problem!

Thanks Bob Hachey for this Guest Post on learning to steer a kayak! Bob is blind and an avid participant of Waypoint Adventure, a Boston-based adaptive recreation organization.

Bob Hachey steers a tandem kayak on the Charles River
with DCR Universal Access Program staff member Andrea Lontine in front.
On a perfect July day, I embarked upon a kayaking trip with an organization called Waypoint Adventure. The boats were launched into the Charles River in my home town of Waltham. I had been on many kayak trips before and was looking forward to a relaxing time out on the water, and, perhaps a bit of power kayaking.


But this trip went far beyond my expectations. My usual trips consisted of one to two hour treks through various waterways. But something felt different right from the start on this day. Others on the trip included four persons with a variety of disabilities and a number of volunteers as well as two representatives of Waypoint Adventure. The organizers asked all of us to introduce ourselves, lead the group in a stretching exercise, and told the group what we might like to learn about kayaking on this date. I latched onto the third of these requests. All of my time spent in a two-person kayak was spent at the front of the kayak as a power paddler. The person in the back does the steering and I’d always wanted to learn how to steer a kayak. Upon mentioning this during my introduction, I was happy to hear encouragement from the trip organizers. One of them came up behind me with a paddle with a couple of unusual tactile markings which made it very easy for me to be sure that my paddle would always be in the optimal position for best results. This was something new for me as keeping the paddle in the correct position had always been a bit of a struggle. He then showed me in detail two methods for steering a kayak. At first, I said that maybe I should let my sighted volunteer steer until we got out into open water, but he assured me that I could steer the boat right from the start.

Monday, June 27, 2016

iCanBike Cambridge!

Thanks to Nina Katz-Christy for her Guest Post about her iCan Bike experience. I recently met Nina at our annual Adaptive Recreation Fair in Brighton, MA and was delighted to meet such a young person already on board with facilitating adaptive recreation in her community. The power of volunteering changes lives!

A few years ago, I decided to volunteer at Arlington’s first iCan Bike Camp. These camps are hosted all across the country through iCan Shine, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching individuals with disabilities to ride conventional two-wheel bicycles. When I signed up to volunteer, I had no idea what to expect. The first day, I was very nervous but quickly got to know the riders and other volunteers. I immediately fell in love with the program and continued volunteering for the next few years.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Importance of Adaptive Recreation Fairs

On June 4, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation hosted an annual Adaptive Recreation Fair at Artesani Park in Brighton, MA. DCR's Universal Access Program has offered this friendly fair since 2007 to promote and kickoff the summer accessible recreation season in the greater Boston area and to provide a variety of adaptive bicycles for participants to ride.

People with disabilities and their families, friends and caregivers attend the fair to participate in an array of other activities and to sign up for summer recreation opportunities. Each year the fair has provided lots of delight and inspiration for those who attend. As it gradually builds a presence in the community over the years, I am reveling in the many special benefits of such an annual event.

People who attend discover whole new worlds of possibility opening up before them. First, there is an exceptionally welcoming crowd of people staffing 20 booths representing  organizations offering cool accessible things to do from amputee surfing to therapeutic horseback riding. Second, the advancements in adaptive recreation equipment continue to expand levels of ability - from newly manufactured recumbent trikes from Terra Trike to a locally designed independent hiking wheelchair like the GRIT Freedom Chair.

An exciting triumph of design is the ParaGolfer, an all terrain power wheelchair that can stand you up so you can swing a golf club anywhere on the course. Both the Freedom Chair and the ParaGolfer are recent advancements in adaptive equipment that DCR's Universal Access Program discovered at this event, then purchased for use in Massachusetts State Parks. Tom McCarthy, Universal Access Program director, tried the ParaGolfer for the first time this year and was thrilled to stand up in it.

Monday, April 11, 2016

AccessSportsAmerica Offers Personal Fitness Training in Boston

This feature Guest Post by Mary Jane Fietze was originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of Disability Issues,a publication of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Cambridge, MA. Photos provided by Nate Berry of AccessSportsAmerica. Thank you AccessSportsAmerica for focusing on fitness for people with disabilities!!!

Are you looking for a place to work out but are intimidated by the bulked-up body-builders that look like Arnold Schwarzenegger at your gym?  Is the equipment simply not made for someone with your disability?  Have you employed a personal trainer whom, frankly, did not understand your disability?  Does this sound like a TV ad that you might hear after all your New Year’s Resolutions are broken?  Well, expect the unexpected.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

12 Sensory Trails in Massachusetts Ready to Visit

There are now a dozen wheelchair accessible sensory trails in Massachusetts! For so long we only had one trail at Cape Cod National Seashore. Now a dozen trails are scattered across the Commonwealth and three more are on the way to being completed!

I got to share this exciting news last week at the FOCUS Conference for people with Visual Impairments and Blindness last week in Norwood, Massachusetts. It was so much fun to be the bearer of good news, along with Jerry Berrier. Jerry and I contributed to the Mass Audubon project which has put most of these sensory trails in place since 2009. I provided initial consultation, staff training and contacts from the disability community for testing concepts and completed trails. Jerry provided consultation as a blind birder and trail user as well as recording all the audio tours for the 10 (soon to be 14) trail project.

All but one of the recently developed sensory trails are located at Mass Audubon sanctuaries. The trails now have navigational systems, Braille signage and audio tours highlighting trail features that engage the senses at several stops. The trails are wheelchair accessible, start from the visitor center and travel up to a mile. Most are in the 1/2 mile range and connect to trail networks. They are a wonderful pathway for users of all ages and abilities to get closer to nature.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Trionic Veloped - Off-Road Walker for Hiking

The Trionic Veloped Off-Road Mountain Walker is a wonderful supportive aid for people with limited mobility who want to explore trails and expand their hiking options. We've been gradually integrating this attractive device into our adaptive outings in Massachusetts State Parks. This all-terrain walker has turned out to be a great match for several of our Universal Access Program participants with disabilities.

Previous to the introduction of the Veloped Mountain Walker - also called by the simpler name Trek - I noticed some people were bringing wheelchairs or rollators to hiking programs to provide balance and portable seating during the trail experience. This standard medical equipment is not designed for off-road conditions and often doesn't perform well on irregular pavement, let alone on a trail. Tiny wheels on the front casters of standard wheelchairs are notorious for getting stuck or requiring additional effort or support to push through gravel, brickwork and other uneven surfaces.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dan Cnossen Skis in Massachusetts

Lucky me! I recently met Dan Cnossen, a Paralympic Nordic skier and biathlete who has been skiing at the Leo J. Martin Ski Track near Boston this winter.

As our Universal Access Program has started up for the season on site, I've been noticing Dan circling the course as I assist with program set up. It is wonderful to witness a Paralympic athlete moving with such power and grace mixed in with the usual Sunday crowd - families, couples, individuals, and young adults with autism who have been making up the bulk of our program so far. For further information on adaptive skiing opportunities at the Leo J. Martin Ski Track in Weston see the end of this post.

Dan's recent history is easy to convey in a few words: Navy Seal. Lt. Commander. Purple Heart. Bronze Star. Sochi Winter Paralympics. Dan lost his lower legs in Afghanistan in 2009 but this didn't slow down his forward momentum for long. Previously based in Colorado where he has continued to work with the Seals as well as train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Dan is in Massachusetts working on a masters degree and making the most out of local snow.