Friday, June 18, 2021

Check out Mary O'Malley Park in Chelsea!

Guest Post from Laila Soleimani of DCR's Universal Access Program. Laila is an Outreach Specialist working to help people discover new opportunities.

Tucked away in an inner suburb of Boston, you will find Mary O’Malley Park. If you’re looking for an easy, leisurely, accessible stroll or just a beautiful place to spend some time relaxing in the urban outdoors, then this is just the spot for you! Last week, I had the opportunity to visit this family and dog-friendly location on a quiet, spring Thursday morning.

Located on Commandant’s Way in Chelsea across from a few apartment complexes, you will notice two parking areas with free, ample parking (for up to 4 hours, as marked on the signage). One parking area is located across from the playground and pavilion at the park and has 2 van accessible parking spaces. The second parking area is located closer to the bathroom building and also has two accessible parking spaces available. The access route to the pavilion next to the playground itself is accessible, however, there are no accessible picnic tables here. I’m happy to report that the bathrooms are open from 6:30am to 6pm and the park itself is open from sunrise to sunset.

The start of the Healthy Heart trail is marked with signage across the Mary O’Malley Park bathroom building between the building, adjacent to the sidewalk. The signage indicates to go right for the trail, the accessible bathrooms, and an accessible picnic area. Follow the signs along the paved path, where you will pass the bathrooms on your right, and continue where you will be greeted with a second Healthy Heart trail sign. This approximate one-mile, mostly flat, mostly paved wheelchair/stroller accessible trail is great for all skill levels and offers wonderful views of the Boston skyline.

 As I began my trek, I immediately observed stunning views of the Tobin Bridge (the largest bridge in all of New England!) sprawling across beautiful Mystic River. The further along the trail I got, the sound of bridge traffic became fainter as the gleeful sounds of birds chirping began to drown out other noise. The smell of freshly mowed grass carpeting the park and the bright green leaves hanging from tall trees hugging the trail were vibrant and welcoming. 

There are eight benches along the trail and an accessible pavilion to relax and get some reprieve from the sun. The pathway and pavilion area are both accessible, but the two picnic tables located there are not. There are also many more picnic tables throughout the park, however, these are not along the accessible route. Shortly after you pass the pavilion and the 4th bench along the path, you will come to a fork where you can go right to cut back to the sidewalk in between the two parking areas or stay straight to continue along the route. While most of the path is mostly paved and flat, you’ll notice the shortcut that loops back to the sidewalk (which is approximately 460 feet) is more of a gravely surface.

I decided to take the longer route and continued my loop through the park. I stopped regularly to marvel at the industrial area across the river which also included views of the Yacht Club and tall cranes at the shipyard used for loading and unloading containers. One of the most notable structures was a large yellow dome. When I inquired about what this was, someone thought this was actually a cement company (makes sense given the area it’s in!). 

This is a very wide trail, averaging 11 feet wide. About three-quarters of a way down the trail, I noticed the trail surface shifted again from being completely paved to a gravely flat surface. Shortly after, I passed two tennis courts and came to another fork in the trail—in order to stay in the park and loop back to the sidewalk on Commandant’s Way, bear right. 

There is a fishing pier that you will notice to the left of the bathroom building. This pier is part of Mary O’Malley park, however, it is not considered accessible (as there is a 9 inch step up to the actual pier). There is an approximate 7% downgrade to get to the pier from the bottom of the trail extension and a 13% downgrade to get to this point. There are no helpful barriers on either side before you get down to the pier so if you decided to explore this area so it’s best to proceed with caution if you have mobility limitations.

Near the fishing pier, you’ll also notice another path to the left for further but less level exploration and more views of the Tobin Bridge, Mystic River, and beautiful residences straight ahead. A gate indicates the end of the park and you will need to turn and hike back down to your vehicle. There are two sections of this path where the trail is raised and difficult for strollers and wheelchair users to navigate.

On this cloudy weekday morning, there were several people walking and jogging in the park and a few families enjoying the playground. I’m sure this park is busier on summer weekends and evenings and draws many visitors. I was told that many people have watched the 4th of July fireworks in Boston from Mary O’Malley throughout the years. It’s important to keep in mind that gates are closed to the park and no one can drive in - it’s walk-in only from the parking lot. Another fun fact I learned is that Mary O’Malley Park and the surrounding area used to be the Chelsea Naval Hospital! I highly recommend visiting this park! I’ve been working with DCR for over 6 years now and I’m always amazed at the wonderful new places that are part of our Massachusetts state parks system.

DCR (Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation) advocates for people to be mindful of the pandemic situation and follow current safe practices outlined by the CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Exploring the Southern Berkshires - Bash Bish Falls and BNRC Trails

I took a step back in time this week and traveled to the Berkshires, where at higher elevation, spring is a week or so behind the Connecticut River Valley and urban places. It was a relief to have less pollen to contend with in these allergy prone times.

It also turns out to be a nice time to visit Bash Bish Falls State Park- before the crowds arrive for the summer. With a jumble of big rocks and a cascade ending in an 80' drop, this waterfall will not disappoint - but it is also a serious people magnet. This popular park in the southwest corner of Massachusetts is heavily visited from Memorial Day through Labor day and probably well into the fall. The main entrance is in New York state, where this park is called Taconic State Park. It is a quick trip from the New York City area. I would think twice before going on weekends. There can be 2-3000 people visiting this small rugged park to picnic and enjoy the cooler temperatures and cold water rushing off of adjacent mountains. 

Bash Bish Falls State Park - the Massachusetts entrance - is a trailhead, with a small parking lot for 24 cars. Its a rugged environment, with a steep trail one third of a mile down to the tallest waterfall in Massachusetts.  The New York entrance below the falls is more accessible and level, with a three-quarter mile walk or hike up to the falls. From either end, if you have a disability (an accessibility plate or placard or your car will support your query) you can ask to drive up to the scenic viewing area. Bear in mind this will be a bumpy ride, with some smooth rocks studding the hard-packed dirt road. Plan to park below if you wish to picnic. Both sides of the border offer ADA accessible portapotties. No swimming is allowed around the falls area.

If, like me, you prefer less visited places with tranquil beauty, I highly recommend Parson's Marsh in Lenox. On a beautiful trail 1/3 of a mile long, you can traverse a field, pass by a pond, stroll through a forested swamp, and emerge at the edge of a marsh onto a deck with an extensive water view. I was amazed at the variety of interesting opportunities on this exceptionally well-built trail.

This trail at Parsons Marsh is owned by the Berkshires Natural Resource Council and was designed and constructed by Peter S. Jenkens and Associates LLC, a renowned accessible trail designer in New England. The drive to this fairly remote spot not far from downtown Lenox is well worth it. If you are visiting the area, don't miss this special spot!

Half of the trail or so is boardwalk. There are a couple of benches along the way, in addition to an accessible picnic table at the pond. The trail has a couple of stream crossings and passes by some intriguing old farm equipment and a huge toppled tree. The yellow birches in the swamp are wonderfully large and old. The variety of habitats offers good opportunities for birding, plant and tree identification, and wildlife sightings. I saw my first spring azure butterfly of the year here. You'll find this place of natural delights at 170 Under Mountain Road. An educational kiosk, with paper maps, provides a warm welcome, though no bathrooms are on site.
Berkshire Natural Resource Council has two other wheelchair accessible trails in the area, the Old Mill Trail in Hinsdale and Thomas and Palmer Brook in Great Barrington. All three BNRC accessible trails area (all created by Jensen and Associates) make for great explorations. Thomas and Palmer even features a map in Spanish on their website - all part of BNRC's excellent ongoing mission of inclusion.

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

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!

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.