Friday, April 16, 2021

Biking and Hiking in Blackstone

Marjorie on the first bridge.
Last week I ventured towards Rhode Island to the Blackstone River Bikeway, located at 85 Canal Street in Blackstone, MA. That is where you can access a 3.7 mile section of completed bike path for a very pleasant walk or ride. The Bikeway is part of a much larger trails project, still in progress. I met up with my friend Marjorie Turner Hollman, an author and specialist in Easy Walks.

On this warm spring day, I found Marjorie suited up in her gel packs, which keep her cool on days that threaten to get too warm. With her national parks volunteer hat and walking attire, she was the perfect ambassador to greet me to her part of our state. As we walked she pointed out various highlights along the trail - nearby rapids, trailside playground, and flowering red maple trees. How wonderful to be out on the trail in good company and to learn more about the area from a local person who loves it well!

Delightful river views along the way.
One of the distinctive features of this section of the Blackstone River Bikeway is the exceptional number of bridges in short distance, with pleasant views of water. We traversed a few bridges before Marjorie needed to head back to cooler environs, then I set off to bike this intriguing section.

The ten foot wide trail had steady but light use on a Friday. Though most people weren't wearing masks, it was easy to keep socially distant. I sped along and thoroughly enjoyed my first bike ride of the year, as well as the "Triad" Marjorie had alerted me to, an unusual configuration of 3 stacked railroad crossings at a point along the river. Though the highest one was never completed, the abutments are in place and it is easy to visualize the full scene above the water. She informed me that this is a very rare occurrence.

The Triad area.
You can access the trail by car from 3 parking lots, 2 at either end of the 3.7 miles and one in between. Each lot holds about 20 cars, but be aware there are no restroom facilities.

Nearby, at the end of County Street, is Blackstone Gorge, with a smaller dirt lot on a hillside that holds about ten cars (also no bathrooms). The access road to the river canoe launch is blocked by a gate, but can be walked around. There is a small day use area next to the river which is nice for a picnic lunch and views of a man-made waterfall (dam), though you may have to lay out a blanket or sit on a rock if picnic table or benches are occupied. 

Blackstone Gorge day use area.
Trails braid along the forested riverside southward to the gorge and are not well-signed or blazed. The area is small enough to prohibit getting truly lost, especially if you keep oriented to the river. 

The closer to the river, the rockier the trails - definitely not accessible for wheelchairs. It is a fun explore for families and sure-footed folks, and if you can follow the river edge you'll come to some intriguing spots with shallow and cascading water before the trail climbs to a highpoint overlook. Visiting here when the leaves are not fully out will increase your views of the surrounding landscape.

Rocky trail passage near the river.
Another trail from the middle of the parking lot starts higher above the water. I found a network of foot paths on the hillside above the river and the higher ones made for much smoother travel, with few obstacles. Some go to the gorge, others disperse towards homes in the area. The gorge is about a quarter mile from the parking lot- a staircase of rock makes for nice seating (easy to imagine this as a Native American meeting spot) and a sense of height, but limited view of the river below. Use caution as there are no barriers to prevent falling. This place has a wild feeling, despite being well-used. Dogs must be leashed. You can read more about Blackstone Gorge in Marjorie's Easy Walks in Massachusetts or read her online post here.

View overlooking the gorge.
This was but a little taste of the wonders that the Rhode Island corner of Massachusetts has to offer and I look forward to exploring more on a future visit. Perhaps you can make it there too!

DCR (Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation) advocates for people to stay close to home during the pandemic and visit parks within walking distance or a short drive. If you plan to venture further afield, as well as on any outing, please protect yourself and others. In addition to following safe practices outlined by the CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health, please be sure to follow these additional guidelines for safe visiting:

  • Minimize outdoor recreational time to limit potential exposure to COVID-19;
  • Stay within solitary or small groups, and avoid gatherings of ten or more people;
  • Practice social distancing of at least six feet between individuals;
  • Administer healthy personal hygiene, such as handwashing for at least 20 seconds;
  • Participate in only non-contact recreational activities;
  • Leave a park or area should large gatherings begin to build; and,
  • Stay home if ill, over 70, and/or part of a vulnerable population

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Whiting Street Reservoir - An Easy Hike in Holyoke

Along Whiting Street Reservoir
April weather is drawing more people into the outdoors and last week I had the pleasure of being welcomed to a new place for me, Whiting Street Reservoir in Holyoke. Sarah Wedaman, local mother of a child with a disability, invited me to check out this favorite place to jog with her son in his stroller. We met on a sunny, warm afternoon and circled the reservoir in an hour and a half on a pleasant stroll.

Roadside parking is at the end of Mountain Park road in Holyoke, off Route 5. There are no designated accessible parking spots and no bathrooms or buildings at this popular location. Best times to go are during the weekdays when you can park close to the gate on relatively level pavement. Recently paving around the gate has created an accessible entry. To go around the reservoir - which is not visible from your car - choose to walk the uphill road. (The downhill choice enters the Mt. Tom Ski Area.) The paved road has a long gradual grade uphill and a steeper descent alongside noisy I-91 before you arrive on flat ground next to a  portapotty (not wheelchair accessible), which I found very clean inside.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Gliding at Great Brook Farm State Park

Cross County ski trails in wooded area with fields beyond.
Between weather events this wintery week, I took advantage of a sunny Wednesday and went to Carlisle, MA to explore Great Brook Farm State Park. Snow conditions were a bit icy, but I was able to cross country ski three to four miles of the 10 mile groomed trail system.

Normally I post about wheelchair accessible opportunities. Alas, this park does not shine for wheelchair access during winter months. Many of the wide ski trails through woods and fields would make for some easy walking and easy hiking in warmer months. Most of the trails are moderate in terrain. Flatter fields and forests near the park entrance have potential for reasonable wheelchair access come summer. More to be revealed after the snow melts!

Monday, February 1, 2021

Easy Walk at Chestnut Hill Reservation

Reservoir loop trail with well-packed snow.
I took a Sunday afternoon stroll in Brighton yesterday at Chestnut Hill Reservation. The 1.5 mile loop around the reservoir is one of DCR's Healthy Heart trails and a popular place to walk alone or with others. My iPhone clocked it at 2 miles around, which for me was a hour's walk. Social distancing is easy on the 15 foot wide hard-packed stone dust pathway.

The reservoir loop is entirely level also. Most people might be inclined to park in a small lot for about 20 cars at 355 Chestnut Hill Road known as Gate A next to the Reilly Skating Rink. There are no accessible parking places for people with disabilities in this lot, probably because of a steep 100 foot paved entry up to the water level and wide gravel walkway. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Easy Walks and Hikes in the Connecticut River Valley

The cover of Marjorie's recently
 published book. 
Easy walks and hikes are in ever higher demand as people age and yet there are too few ways to find out about them. Marjorie Turner Hollman provides a handy reference to Easy Walks (a term she has coined) in south central Massachusetts through her publications. Her latest book, "Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are" provides essential information to help you seek out Easy Walks close to home, especially timely for the pandemic.

Marjorie has a few disabling conditions that make her an excellent measure of what is required of a trail to be considered an Easy Walk. In short, an Easy Walk would be on flat to mild terrain, have minimal low rocky conditions to navigate, and could be anywhere from a quarter mile to two and a half miles in length. Any slightly more challenging terrain might last only 20-30 feet. A step or two might be encountered at a bridge. Any wheelchair accessible path would constitute an Easy Walk, but some Easy Walks will extend beyond wheelchair accessibility.

Read on to learn some Easy Walk locations in the Connecticut River Valley, and find out about Easy Hikes too.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Scenic Easy Walk In North Central Massachusetts

Scenic roadway along the Quabbin shoreline.
Despite a gray cloudy day I ventured over to Gate 35 at the Quabbin today. A facebook follower had alerted me a few months ago to this unexpected wheelchair accessible experience and finally I had a chance to follow up. What a lovely find!

Gate 35 is located along the northeastern tip of the massive reservoir, technically in the town of Athol, at the end of N. Old Dana Road off Route 122 in New Salem. There is roadside parking at the gated end of the road and room around the gate to pass through in a wheelchair. A kiosk with map and various rules is within sight at a fork in the dirt road beyond the gate. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

Winter Outings for Wheelchair Users

Thoreau's cabin replica in a light dusting of snow
with sign and sculpture of Thoreau walking.
“We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure....." - Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau, one of our Massachusetts literary icons of the 19th century, spent a famous 2 years, 2 months and 2 days living in a cabin on the shore of Walden Pond. An intrepid spirit, he also wrote: 

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements. "

Nowadays we all suffer from cabin fever and fresh air is more important than ever. The pandemic is a steady challenge and some people simply may not be able to go out. For those who can, our walks may be quite limited by time constraints along with short days and winter conditions. Winter's cold, snow and ice present tough challenges for many people with disabilities. It is daunting to consider going out. Forty minutes, let alone, 4 hours, may be an ambitious undertaking for many, yet even just sticking your head out the door, can be beneficial for your health and well-being. But the question remains, where can you go for an accessible trail experience in the winter? On top of that we now add "where there aren't too many people?"

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Two Boston Area Accessible Winter Walks

Three people, including one in a wheelchair,
walk alongside ice covered water.
With a chill in the air and a touch of snow on the ground, it is still vital for health and well-being to get fresh air and exercise. I did some exploration in the Boston area of two accessible trails to check accessibility this week.

My first stop was Webb Memorial State Park at 371 River Street in North Weymouth on Boston's south shore. I needed a dose of sea air and views of the water! This park is a peninsula that extends into Hingham Bay and offers views of Boston, the harbor, and islands. Much to my delight I found the bathrooms not only open, but heated, with warm water coming from the sink faucet at Webb Memorial State Park!! Thank you DCR! Be aware that there is about an inch of threshold to navigate to get into the restroom, otherwise the interior is accessible.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Scenic Treasures on the Taunton River

A man sitting along a boardwalk views a battleship.
I was driving in southeastern Massachusetts this week of Veteran's Day and re-discovered a couple of short accessible trails well worth mentioning for their historical significance.

The first is in Fall River, at Fall River Heritage State Park. Though the visitor center remains closed during the pandemic, the urban waterfront park and its three-quarter mile trail are open. Most helpful of all, the accessible bathroom is open and can be accessed from a separate door on the building's exterior.

Park your vehicle in one of two small parking lots off Davol Street near a community sailing facility or at Battleship Cove on 5 Water Street. This historical area is located very close to I-195 along the Taunton River. A paved and boardwalk trail circles the Heritage Park Visitor Center with a short connecting bridge to Battleship Cove. The ships sitting right there in the cove are quite impressive, as is the highway bridge over the river. It all makes for some very dynamic visuals. The USS Massachusetts is resting here, a well decorated battleship from WWII.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Wheelchair Accessible Trails and Outings on Cape Cod

Fall is a fabulous time to visit Cape Cod - the weather is often milder than on the mainland and the crowds tend to thin out. I just spent Columbus Day weekend in the mid-cape area and discovered that there are quite a few wheelchair accessible trail outings available to those seeking quiet time in nature. Freshwater ponds and wetlands, cedar swamps, and salt marshes are just some of the exciting options to explore. You never know what you'll find on the way to such places too. I lucked out and came upon a cranberry harvest along the roadside!

Key information for visitors with disabilities to Cape Cod include two foundational opportunities. The 22 mile Cape Cod Rail Trail offers a paved linear bike trail through the towns of Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Orleans  Eastham and Wellfleet, passing through Nickerson State Park about mid-way in Brewster. Both of these state parks offer accessible opportunities managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation.