Wednesday, July 8, 2020

A Sense of Peace and History on the Tinker Trail

I visited the John Tinker Trail in Groton this week - what a gem of a wheelchair accessible trail!

Located on Nod Road in J. Harry Rich State Forest, the John Tinker Trail is a delightful and flat quarter-mile stroll through the woods and alongside a river to a picnic table. The trail is 10 feet wide and hard-packed stone dust. As it comes close to the river, pine needles cover the trail and the smell of pine provides a pleasant atmosphere, as does the scenic views of river through the tall trees. I really liked the sense of both spaciousness and protection in this location.

There are three stone benches along the river portion of the trail. Footpaths follow the river contour, separate from the accessible trail, and make for an inviting explore for kids or nimble adults. I saw a swan out on the curving river. Despite the bright green algae growth covering most of the river water, the sunny views were lovely from the shade. The view from the picnic table overlooking the river's sharp curve offered a peaceful sense of beauty. Pond lilies and pickerel weed were blooming. I heard several common bird calls for this time of year - red-winged blackbirds and mourning doves among them. The ground is fairly open so it was easy to avoid touching vegetation that might harbor ticks. Traffic sounds are far off and the bugs were only mildly noticeable in the parking lot.

There is a 5 car parking lot to start and one of the 5 spaces is designated van accessible. A father with 2 young kids was departing when I arrived, so I had the place to myself for quite awhile. As I was wrapping up my picnic lunch, an older couple came down the trail, one person using a rolling walker. It was easy to keep our distance from each other. Later at the parking lot we conversed and I learned that they live nearby and walk the trail regularly. So nice to know that this quiet trail is being well-used by those who need it for its accessible design! They also verified that the trail is usually quiet, with similar visitation as I experienced.

The peace and quiet of this location belies the fact that Groton was first settled here by John Tinker, who followed Native American trails from the bay area to the mouth of Nod Brook on the Nashua River, according to the Town of Groton's website. Tinker built a trading post in the early 17th century in the vicinity of the picnic table. From this point Groton and surrounding towns were settled. I cannot help but give a heartfelt "nod" to the native people who lost their homeland here, in part to balance the history told about this place.

I also visited the nearby Nashua River Rail Trail which offers an 11 mile bike path north of Route 2 west of 495. Bike paths are noteworthy accessible trails and on a beautiful summer afternoon this one had light traffic. I saw a few cyclists wearing masks but most were not. Although I didn't visit every access point, the best place I saw for wheelchair access to the Nashua River Rail Trail was in the center of Groton at the Station Road entrance. Plenty of parking parallel to the trail, though not all of it is paved. The trail is mostly shady along much of its length. If you are interested in biking in the Groton area, check out a recent post by Marjorie Turner Hollman who writes regularly of her Easy Walk and tandem biking adventures in central Massachusetts. She highly recommends getting out early to avoid crowds.

DCR advocates for people to stay close to home 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 DCR guidelines for safe park 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. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Into the Wheelchair Accessible Woods at Savoy Mountain State Forest

Four miles off Route 2 in the Berkshires, Savoy Mountain State Forest has a delightful accessible trail linking a beach with the woods. Though short, the trail offers a surprising bit of respite in nature. This state park offers a remote opportunity for camping, hiking and enjoying the outdoors.

I particularly like the bit of wildness you feel on the accessible trail as you traverse gently rolling terrain near North Pond. It's a great spot to listen for forest birds. While there I heard the robust and complex song of the elusive winter wren and saw ladyslipper flowers in bloom. I also saw my first autumn leaf in the trail, before the end of June!

The accessible trail starts from the main parking lot. Pass the restrooms and tee up onto a paved path traversing the main area of the park. If you turn left, you'll enter a picnic area and head down an accessible path to the beach. Turn right and soon you will see a trailhead sign for the North Pond Loop on your right. This is where the accessible woodland trail starts.

You will quickly discover stone fireplaces along the trail, no longer used but perfectly situated now for resting places. These fireplaces were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The buildings near the parking lot are also from the CCC era and a kiosk there provides more information on the fascinating history of the CCC.

Take your time in this section as it is the best. To the left is a little ridge which helps block the occasional sound of traffic on the paved road nearby. Hikers may pass you by here, as this trail leads to other hiking trails that quickly enter rugged terrain. The park features seven hill and mountain top summits. In this lower elevation and flatter terrain by the pond, you are still up in the mountains, where the air is sure to be cooler than in the Pioneer or Hoosic Valleys of western Massachusetts.

Soon you'll come to a junction. Bear left and loop around back to the paved road. You can return to your car via the paved road or along the parallel paved path that brought you to the trailhead, if you can pass through the 32" wide and 45" high opening in a gate there at the woodland trail's endpoint with the road. Most adults in a wheelchair would need to be able to bend forward at the waist to pass through. There is a 3" bump up onto the pavement for the road, which might require an assist. Worst case scenario, turn around and enjoy the woodland trail from the reverse perspective. You never know what you might observe that you missed on the first pass through.

Savoy Mountain is located at 260 Central Shaft Road in Florida, Massachusetts.

DCR advocates for people to stay close to home 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 DCR guidelines for safe park 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, June 26, 2020

Easy Hikes in the Vicinity of Mt. Greylock

The northwest corner of Massachusetts offers beautiful mountain scenery where it is possible to find a few accessible and easy trail experiences.

Driving to the top of Mt. Greylock State Reservation, our tallest peak at 3491 feet, will bring you to a beautiful stone lodge and a 1/4 mile wheelchair accessible paved trail. Here you can circle the summit of Mt. Greylock around the War Memorial Tower and enjoy extensive views
across western Massachusetts. I always enjoy the cooler temperatures, fresher air and shorter trees in places like this! Plan to bring and wear a mask as the summit may be well-attended on beautiful days this summer, though there is plenty of room to spread out on the open summit field. Wheelchair users may need to be ready to ask people to move off trail if other users don't recognize they should do so to allow safe passage in the Covid-era.

The Ashuwillticook Rail Trail in the valley east of Mt. Greylock offers a more extensive wheelchair accessible trail opportunity - more details on the rail trail at the end of this post.

For easygoing ambulatory hikers and more intrepid wheelchair hikers there is a noteworthy new trail at the base of Mt. Greylock well worth visiting. The Glen Meadow Loop Trail is 1.7 miles long on gentle terrain. The 12' wide trail is hard-packed stone dust and takes you in and around an extensive meadow, and through woods and shaded wetlands and around ponds. When I was there in early June there were extensive swaths of wildflowers and only a handful of people on the trail, which has yet to see substantial use.

Any time of year you will see a spectacular ancient willow tree if you do the whole loop. The tree is quite enormous, even with trunks split off and fallen to the ground on two sides! The whole trail offers a bonanza of birding and some wonderful, soul-nourishing scenery, including a glorious view of Mt. Greylock throughout the southeastern section of the loop.

If you plan to check out the Glen Meadow Loop Trail there are a few key things to know. The first is that it is not considered wheelchair accessible. There is a clivus style outhouse on site and it is not wheelchair accessible with a significant step up to it. There is no designated accessible parking. If you use a wheelchair you'll want to bypass the first parking area on Gould Road (due to a climb to reach the loop trail) and continue driving uphill around a curve, past a small parking lot for Peck's Falls on the left, to a second parking area for the loop trail on the right (where you can see the clivus toilet both in view from the road and on the map shown). It's roadside parking on a hill so not accessible, but for some it might be worth it because if you can handle the parking angle, it is possible to pass through the roadside boulders (45" width" passage) to enter the loop trail area.

This is a remarkable hiking opportunity for people who prefer or need to not have to deal with obstacles on the trail like roots and rocks. It's also great for navigation - easy to stay on the well-defined trail with minimal trail intersections. There are several sections with lengthy gradual grades uphill or down. If you travel in a clockwise direction, you will be well situated to travel downhill for the most extensive (400') and steepest grade (150' of that 400' is at 10%).

Another thing to keep in mind; this is bear county and hikers should plan to respect bears by not bothering or feeding them - a good reminder that social distancing extends well beyond six feet for some other species. There have been numerous sightings of bears in the Adams area this season, even along the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail in Adams. DCR's West Region Trails Coordinator reports that all sightings have been peaceful as far as she's heard this year. The bears typically move away from people. I was fortunate to see a bear while hiking the Glen Meadow Loop Trail and indeed this was the case.

Last, but not least, the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail is an 12 mile paved 10 foot wide bike path that runs between Adams and Dalton and offers spectacular views of the Mt. Greylock mountain complex, especially as it passes along two reservoirs in Cheshire. Best access points are at the visitor center in Adams, Farnum's Crossing in Cheshire, or the Berkshire Mall in Dalton. Currently only the northern (Adams) half is open with the southern portion is being re-paved. In July, the northern end will close for paving and the southern half will re-open. This is, in my opinion, the most scenic bike path in the state.

DCR advocates for people to stay close to home 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 DCR guidelines for safe park 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. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Stroll Through Former Estate Grounds in Leominster

This week I ventured to Leominster to investigate wheelchair accessible trails in north central Massachusetts on a Trustees of Reservations property. The trails were easy to locate off Route 2. I was happy to discover 1.5 miles of accessible trail at the Doyle Community Park and Center are in good condition with much to enjoy along the way.

The Doyle Community Park and Center offers two wheelchair accessible loops through forest, meadows and parklands of former estate property. The Doyle Estate trail is .8 mile and the Pierce Meadow trail is .4 mile. There is a  quarter mile connector trail between them that passes through the main visitor parking lot. Both trails are 6 feet wide - sometimes wider - with hard packed stone dust for easy travel. The park offers several interesting highlights, as well as places to picnic and sit along the trails. The visitor center and restrooms are not currently open, so be aware there are no restrooms available.

When I arrived at 11am, there were several car loads of families with young kids leaving the mostly empty 40 car parking lot at 464 Abbott Ave. Other people were walking with dogs on leash or with 1-2 other people. Many adults I saw until I left at 3pm were wearing face coverings. It was easy to maintain social distance on the trails - in fact most of the time I was completely on my own on a sunny day. I found it interesting that there was no designated accessible parking in the visitor parking lot. If you have a placard, definitely use one of the two accessible parking spots located at the visitor center. From there you can hop right onto the Doyle Estate Trail with ease, without intermingling with people and cars in the visitor lot.

There are several kiosks featuring the trail map around the park, but no brochure maps available on site. To see the trail map in advance, click here.

For the Doyle Estate trail, you will use a crosswalk to cross over Abbott Ave.  The trail proceeds gently uphill and circles the former estate residence, which is a beautiful property currently in use - heed signs and stay on the trail, which will also keep you safe from ticks and poison ivy. You'll find views of an expansive hayfield, a boardwalk along a pond with willow trees, and an observation deck overlooking the pond (unfortunately not currently accessible due to an eroded threshold onto the deck).

Further along you'll come to a large white stone atop a small knoll with stone benches and an adjacent thick patch of milkweed. My timing was perfect for the start of the milkweed flowers but I did not see any monarch butterflies. I also found an unusual variation on mountain laurel in bloom near the estate. Like many former estates, this one offers lesser known ornamental trees and shrubs established long ago which are fortunately well-maintained here.

The connector trail is forested and the Pierce Meadow Trail is an open parkland with large trees scattered over an open field. Mown trails through the high grass invite further exploration for young families and curious souls. If you stay on the trail you will eventually come into view of the Boys and Girls Club. Opposite the Club, I found a beautiful old tulip tree here in full bloom - a magnificent sight. An huge beech tree beyond it invites you to step off the trail to check out these old trees on the flat mown grass. There is even an accessible picnic table underneath - a truly delightful spot!

After this point the trail brings you to a small parking lot which can be used to park just for the Pierce Meadow Trail with about 5 car spots (I did not notice designated accessible spots though it is indicated on the trail map) and after that a shaded picnic grove among pines with 4 accessible picnic tables. If you want to go directly to this spot, it is on Palm Street off Lindell Ave. There is no sign for Palm Street but it is to the left of the Boys and Girls Club with curving stone pillars on either side.

Another bonus at this location is a community garden. A sign invites you in and I found the gate closed but unlatched for an easy push through. Passages between the well-tended beds were wide enough for most wheelchairs. If need be, you can continue back to the main lot and visitor center via the connector trail from this point.

An item of note regarding accessibility: there is some minor wear of the trail at both ends of the bridge at the main visitor parking lot, as well as at one end of the boardwalk so the transition is not flush. In two cases the tiny step on or off the bridge is one inch, but on one side of the bridge by the parking lot it is a 2" height.

The Doyle Community Park and Center has clear signage up advising social distancing practices. If you plan to go, 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 DCR guidelines for safe park 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. 
Accessible trails at Doyle Community Park and Center were created with partial funding from the Recreation Trails Grant Program administered by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Eagles Reserve - A Wheelchair Accessible Walk on the Wild Side

For those in north central Massachusetts looking for a new vista, Eagle's Reserve Conservation Area is a worthy drive. The Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust has built a beautiful wheelchair accessible trail to the water's edge of an extensive wetland where yes, you can see eagles soaring.

It is probably a lengthy drive to Eagles Reserve for most visitors and on back roads so you will definitely see countryside on your way. The destination is ultimately local, just perfect for those seeking some quieter time away from people. You might see another vehicle in the 6-8 car lot, but most likely you won't. Watch for the small sign along the road at 55 Winchendon Road, Royalston.

A kiosk with map awaits you at the start of the trail, where you can get oriented and learn a bit more about this wild spot not far from Royalston center. The David H. Small Community Nature Trail is named after a wonderful local independent naturalist, president of the Athol Bird and Nature Club, and former DCR Assistant Regional Director for the Quabbin Reservoir. Dave's enthusiasm about nature has been a gift to his community for decades and he remains actively involved in everything to do with birds, dragonflies, moths, and more.

The trail is a gradual descent to the water's edge equivalent to a third of a mile. There are a couple of pull-overs along the way in case a rest is needed on the return trip. I saw a fallen pine tree cut at the first pull-out but there is still plenty of room to allow someone to pass if need be. You will cross a well built bridge before you get to the observation deck. Bring binoculars if you have them for the best view of any eagles in the air, as well as other wildlife. Approach the deck quietly to avoid startling anything close you might like to see.

The observation deck has a couple of benches and I sat there to eat lunch. You can settle in and let nature resume all around you. I was there earlier this spring twice. Both times I saw eagles in the air - straight out and to the left where I suspect they might be nesting. There are several beaver lodges in view. The wetland is quite large - I was struck by the magnificence of the place. You cannot see it all from the deck but what you experience is a genuine sense of being "out there". I thought of Dave on both my visits as there was abundant migratory warbler activity to the left of the deck where the wetland drains into the forest. It is as likely a place to see an otter or two or a moose as ever I've come across.

I found it hard to leave this spot, as it is such a delightful destination. Nonetheless, when it is time to go, the return though the forest is a peaceful transition.

Keep in mind, there are no bathrooms on site. Royalston center doesn't have typical storefronts or a gas station but there might be a chance to use a bathroom at the town hall if it is open. If not, Athol will likely be the next bet for public facilities.

There are two other short but not wheelchair accessible 1/2 mile trails nearby on the Mt. Grace property for those who would like to explore more on conventional trails. I hiked the Peninsula Trail that starts at a small kayak launch and travels along the shoreline then up onto an esker, a small ridge left from glacial activity long ago. You can avoid the steep climbs on an alternate side trail and still catch more views into the wetland, which has extensive bogs not visible from the accessible deck. To do so you must be able to maneuver over a large fallen tree at the very start of the trail. Another trail off adjacent Stone Road travels along a hayfield and might get you closer to eagles. In both cases, you cannot park at the trailhead and must walk along the (generally quiet) paved road a ways to access the trail. These options are shown on the trail kiosk at the accessible trail.

In addition to following safe practices outlined by the CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health, please be sure to follow these additional DCR guidelines for safe park 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. 

Monday, June 8, 2020

Mutters Field - A Respite in Nature in the Pioneer Valley

If you are seek to get outside in the Pioneer Valley, there are several good wheelchair accessible opportunities to avoid crowds. Part of the trick is to go in the morning or later in the afternoon on weekdays.

Looking for a quiet wheelchair accessible spot in nature not far off the beaten track? Mutters Field in Easthampton offers a gentle third of a mile stroll around a field surrounded by trees, with a view of a narrow brook and a glimpse of Mt. Tom. Along the way you can learn about rain gardens, invasive species, monarch butterflies, bluebirds, and more by reading colorful interpretive signs. There are 6 benches with pullout space around the loop, 2 picnic tables, and a pavilion with benches as well. While you can hear occasional cars passing by on East Street, I discovered that this spot truly offers respite in nature. While there I saw a couple of people who were easy to see in advance and avoid or pass.

The trail at Mutters Field is built for accessibility at 5 feet wide. Because it is a stone dust path between containing boards that are elevated on cross beams under or alongside the trail, it is a step down to get off the trail (see picture). This means that passing other users on the trail would require ambulatory people to step down a few inches off the trail to ensure social distancing while passing wheelchair users. I'm guessing that this might require some communication as not all walkers will anticipate this possibility.

An acquaintance of mine who uses a wheelchair recently visited Mutters Field and his assistants commented on how nice it is there!


Some things I really liked about this trail:

  • Freshly black-topped parking lot (still awaiting re-striping of spaces) with at least 1 designated van accessible spot
  • Great example of the type of trail signage at the entrance that can be most useful for new trail users 
  • The grass is trimmed alongside the trail boards about 2 feet into the field, which helps with tick management. Otherwise, the hayfield is in its natural state - beautiful in June!
  • Milkweed plants are left uncut at the trail edge which allows for some wonderful opportunities to observe the plants and the insects visiting them through the summer season. 
  • Bird boxes are set up for bluebirds and tree swallows, although I did not happen to see any activity around them.
  • Lovely large oaks along the north edge of the field near the brook overlook.

A few cautions about the trail:

The maximum slope of 7% advertised on the trail info signage underestimates the length of the first grade downward on the trail from the parking lot. It should probably read <100' as the downhill is 88' to the curve at the bottom. This is the steepest grade of the trail. There is a bench about halfway along the hill for the return journey up if you need to take a break. If you are self-propelling in a manual wheelchair, you may find that you have to partially block the trail to rest as there is not enough space alongside the bench to pull off trail completely.

I noticed a spot or two near the side trail to the brook overlook that had poison ivy along the edge of the trail. 

The brook overlook is a steep edge with just a short cable section to separate viewers from the descent. Use extra caution with small children and others who may be impulsive.

Mutters Field is owned and managed by the Pascommuck Conservation Trust and was partially funded with a Recreation Trails Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. 

If you go, Mutters Field is located across from 416 East Street. It is not obviously marked and easy to pass by on this residental road. The sign in the parking lot does not stand out from the road, especially in the afternoon with the sun behind it. This makes it less obvious to people who don't know about the trail, and also slightly more of a challenge to pinpoint from the road. Having the address with you should help and the fresh blacktop will be a good landmark.

In addition to following safe practices outlined by the CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health, please be sure to follow these additional DCR guidelines for safe park 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, June 2, 2020

Revisiting the Fort River Accessible Trail in Hadley

It had been five years since I last visited the spectacular accessible trail in Hadley. The Fort River Trail is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge located in the central Pioneer Valley. I checked out the trail after it opened in 2014 and was pleased to see that this 1.1 mile loop has been well cared for and has weathered all seasons since. I also couldn't help but notice that this is a great accessible trail option for our current era of social distancing.

The trail has a big parking area at 69 Moody Street in Hadley, and at least 10 pull over areas including observation decks and pavilions. There are plenty of benches along the 5' wide stone dust and boardwalk trail. I was surprised to see about 6 cars in the lot and only a few people on the trail during my hour and a half there on a refreshingly cool morning before temperatures hit the 80s. The trail is one-way to support social distancing as well. There could have been many more people on the trail and it still would have been easy to minimize contact.
 
The meandering loop takes you through a hayfield, across a broad section of young tree growth in seasonal wetlands, into the forest, along the quiet river and close to completion there is a wonderful view across hayfields to the Holyoke Range. In late May I found the area rich with diverse birdsongs as a result of this multi-habitat area. The hayfield shows off a large pollinator garden with educational signage. The trail features a children's story book that can be read as you walk along. Curiously, it currently is winter themed - interesting to contemplate the opposite time of year surrounded by green foliage.

There are a few ponds along the way, starting at the parking lot, so your walk will keep water in view as you go. Young mallard duck families were busy feeding in a few spots. This is a great trail for families with young children who are likely to enjoy the many things to see and the extensive boardwalk section 3/4 of the way through the loop, quite reminiscent of Swiss Family Robinson. With clear trail definition and railings along the boardwalks, it is easy to stay on the path. I especially appreciated the opportunity to be in a hayfield, even feel the grasses swaying alongside the trail, without having to put myself at undue risk of acquiring ticks.

Seasonally, much of this are is prone to being wet, which explains the hefty boardwalk system. This would be a great place to visit over the seasons. If you like to identify birds, there are many songs to learn along this trail in spring and early summer. I heard and saw at least 24 species, including Great-crested Flycatcher, Catbird, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Eastern Wood Pewee, Bobolink, Killdeer, Red-eyed Vireo and Scarlet Tanager.

A few cautionary notes - watch out for poison ivy. It is growing along the wooden trail edge in a few places - a bit too easy to reach or brush against accidently though it does not stray over the trail edge much.

In the boardwalk section there is a long 8% grade - the standard for wheelchair accessible ramps, but extended well past the usual practical distance at 120 feet. You'll find a pull-out with benches and space for a wheelchair halfway up the hill and a bench at the top of the hill. Soon after that you will come to your just rewards, an extraordinarily lovely and spacious view of the Holyoke Range.

If or when you go, prepare for sun and shade and the possibility of bugs. Bring your own water and snacks of course. There are two portapotties in the sunny parking area, one of which is ADA accessible. Please also take care of yourself and others by practicing social distancing as directed by the CDC and Mass Department of Public Health, and following DCR's additional guidelines for safe park visitation:

  • 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, May 29, 2020

Accessible Central Mass Outing and Riverside Picnic Opportunity

I found a lovely spot recently - nice and quiet - for a wheelchair accessible outing in Ware, Massachusetts. The Mass Central Rail Trail there features a new accessible side trail to a picnic spot next to a gentle river. On a sunny and warm spring afternoon I saw only a few people on the trail. The primary use of the 8-10 foot wide trail is for people walking, biking and cross country skiing. ATVs are not allowed.

There is plenty of sun along the 1/4 mile stretch of the flat stone dust rail trail until you arrive at the entrance to the short side trail on the left, marked by a small blue diamond marker as shown in photo. Once on the side trail, you can expect some shade and moderate grades (7% for 65 feet) down to a wheelchair accessible picnic table. The Ware River is gliding along peacefully close by.

The area is a unique habitat - a sandy plain on glacial till and a former farm - where a prescribed burn took place 4 years ago. Diverse habitats from tall trees to sapling groves and scrubby brushland offer a nice array of birds. I saw or heard over a dozen species. At the picnic area there is an educational panel that helps explain the presence of the fire tolerant pitch pine in the area.

On the river side of the picnic table, stay mindful of the drop-off towards the river. Past the picnic table there is one spot (shown in photo below) with an area of deeper loose gravel that may be tricky for some to push wheelchairs or walkers through as it is at the start of a gentle incline. This part could be avoided by retracing your path the other way. Otherwise, the rest of the trail is generally firm and stable.

Some other things you may want to know before you go: The river is stocked with trout and there were fishermen using 2-3 of the parking spaces. This location has a 7 car lot with 1 designated accessible parking spot closest to the trailhead. The lot requires diagonal parallel parking as it is alongside a two lane roadway - and you have to cross the road to access the trail. There is a well marked pedestrian crossing for this purpose, as shown in the last photo.

Some may be interested in another picnic spot along this trail, before the accessible trail. You'll pass a grassy mown trail on the right that heads uphill. It's not far to a grassy mown clearing with another picnic table and a view of a small pond. The uphill distance is 145' before it levels out and the steepest part is at the beginning. Many people would find this an easy walk.

The address for the parking lot is 250 Church Street. For some reason my GPS had me arrive well before 250. You will pass beyond a residential area and into the countryside before you find this destination.

If you go, follow the necessary precautions of our times. Practice the protective measures recommended by the CDC and Massachusetts Department of Health. In addition, DCR recommends the following guidelines:

  • 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. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

River to Range - Wheelchair Accessible Walk in South Hadley

I found my way on a sunny but cool and windy day to a wheelchair accessible loop in South Hadley, Massachusetts, built in 2018. The trail is located on Ferry Street next to the Mt. Holyoke boathouse on the Connecticut River.

The one mile stone dust trail departs the 8 car parking lot at the end of a long open field. At this time of year before the leaves are out, you can see the river and mountains on the other side. A big part of the loop travels around this field on level ground, with a stint through the woods at the far end that involves more varied terrain. You will find no restrooms at this location, but plenty of open space and fresh air.

Along the way there are 5 places to pull off the trail with 1-2 stone benches and wayside information about the landscape and its history. It makes for a nice educational stroll and I did pass a father and 2 young boys reading the signs. A solo walker and a family of four also passed by me during my 45 minutes on the trail on a weekday afternoon at 4pm. Seems like a fine place for a stroll and if you go, please practice DCR safe park visiting guidelines during this period of restricted social contact:



  • 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 
  • Stay home if ill, over 70, and/or part of a vulnerable population 
This location has some very noteworthy elements. It is very close to where Bachelor Brook meets the Connecticut River. A short scenic dirt lane to this spot can be taken off the accessible trail. The far end of the accessible trail parallels the floodplain area of the winding brook, with tall maples overhead. It's a delightful and extensive view into a unique environment not typically accessible to walkers in my experience. As you enter the wooded portion of the trail, there is a larger resting area with a viewing area over the floodplain. 

Further along you will come upon the one challenging grade of the trail (shown in above photo), where assistance may be needed for some wheelchair users who might not otherwise need it - an uphill climb for 75 feet at 12-13%. It is well worth navigating for the environmental opportunity if you can manage it. After that the trail pretty much levels out again back to the parking lot.
 
Other noteworthy elements - 

There is a power line that traverses the field. As power lines go, it's not the high tension buzzy type, thank goodness. All the fun new aspects of the trail kept me from being too bothered by it, including one of the most unique obstacles I've ever come upon on a trail. 

On the river side of the field, there is a hanging swath of  vines, cut off a few feet from the ground, that sways in the wind. The breeze was quite strong when I visited, and the hefty vines passed back and forth across the trail, requiring me to consider carefully when I chose to pass through.

The Bachelor Brook - Stony Brook Conservation Area in South Hadley offers a pleasant opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. I was pleased to find it was less than 25 minutes from Amherst. If you are based in the central or southern stretch of the Pioneer Valley, this may be a great local opportunity for you. The parking lot is at 240 Ferry Street. There is a longer extension off the accessible loop that offers more walking trail along the brook and helps to disperse visitors. 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Quieter Walks in South Central Massachusetts

I explored two wonderful wheelchair accessible trails yesterday - one in Palmer and one in Fiskdale/Sturbridge. Both are worth a visit in this time of social distancing as they are less well-known by the world at large. As town properties they are more locally used and in both locations I was by myself most of the time. Both trails were recently constructed with funding support from the DCR Recreation Trails Grant Program. If you live relatively local to them, consider a visit! If you go, please follow our state government guidance for visiting parks:

Stay Close to Home - Visit a Park Within Walking Distance or a Short Drive
Practice Social Distancing - Maintain 6 Feet of Space Between You and Other Visitors
Keep Hikes Simple, Easy and Safe to Avoid Injury - Don’t Take Risks 
Be Prepared - Bring Map, Phone and Water
Avoid Crowds and Group Recreation at All Times
Limit the Time of Your Visit - Keep it Short Avoid the Crowds
Visit During Less Busy Times - Early Mornings and Weekdays
Trash Cans are Not Available Take Trash Home - Dispose of Trash at Home
Wear a Face Mask or Face Covering When Outside of the House
Avoid Touching Shared Surfaces Practice Good Hygiene At All Times

The Universal Access Trail Loop in Palmer is located on First Street. It's an easy find off Route 181 west of downtown - a Shell Station is a good landmark for locating the turn. A sign says "Palmer Industrial Park" but don't be dissuaded as there is just one business there. Otherwise there is a parking lot off a circle large enough to accommodate 6-8 cars, with one spot designated for accessible parking. You'll have to navigate a slight downward grade towards a row of boulders at the entrance, with one 32" wide entry for wheelchair passage onto the 1/4 mile trail. Once on the trail it should be smooth traveling around a level loop alongside the Swift River.

The six foot wide trail is made of stone dust, well-corralled between side boards. Along the way you'll find 3 benches, one trash can, and a pavilion with a single extended picnic table for wheelchair use. It's a scenic spot along the forested riverside and I imagine it would be a nice place to feel cool in the heat of summer. The trail sits high above the water with no access to it. Caution and good supervision would definitely required for anyone with balance issues or small children as the trail comes close to rocky edges and drop offs. The river has a lively, gentle current and the sound of rushing water was noticeable at this time of year.

East of Palmer and about 2 miles off Route 20 is another wheelchair accessible trail at the Heins Conservation Area on Leadmine Mountain at 197 Leadmine Road. The Pond Loop Trail is a 3/4 mile loop that starts from a 12 car parking lot with 2 accessible parking spots. The hard-packed dirt/gravel trail is 5 feet wide with gentle terrain variations. It parallels Leadmine Road, then crosses it before you find the pond view. The second half of the trail follows a forested wetland and makes for nice birding, though there is just one open view of the pond near Leadmine Road. Click here for a map of this part of the Heins Conservation Area.

The whole loop has a solid well-built quality that fits naturally into the environment as a cart road. Caution should be exercised at the two crossings of paved road. The only place where a cross slope (side to side grade as you travel along the trail) was noticeable is where the trail first crosses Leadmine Road at the halfway point. At the end of the loop there is a 40"+ exit route around a gate, then you must cross over the road again to return to the parking lot. The road here presents a small "hill" as the center line is higher than the shoulders so exercise extra caution at the very end of the loop.

Neither of these locations feature restrooms. In both cases there is at least one additional trail starting from the parking lot and these may be suitable as gentle or moderate hikes, especially if  mobility limitations are minimal. Continue reading if you are looking for such an option.

In Palmer, the Swift River Greenbelt Trail continues further along the Swift River at the same elevation for 1.8 miles. Click here for a map. (The far right side of the trail illustration is the Universal Access Trail loop.) I did not walk further along the river, but other users have described it to be clean and user friendly online.

At the Heins Conservation Area, the Stafford Turnpike and Cabin Loop trails start on the opposite side of the road from the parking lot and offer up to 1.7 miles of moderate hiking, which may be challenging in places for people with mobility limitations. A 4-5' wide trail varies from gravel/hard-packed dirt to mown grass along field edges. A few spots have trickier grades and/or flat rocks or tree roots but generally these are a very small portion of the trail. Over 95% of the trail is without obstacles, which tend to be well below 2" in height (one exception shown here can be avoided). The ramble through the open fields area is well worth it!

This trail system would be suitable for walkers who need an easier hike than most typical hiking trails, but offers more challenging terrain than the Pond Loop Trail. A few of the more challenging spots are soon after the trail starts so you'll know quickly whether the hike would be appropriate. Further along, much of the trail is more easily navigable and you will find an abandoned cabin, beautiful field views with benches, and bluebird boxes. There is one higher outlook with a bench that requires a long walk uphill to attain, but the loop that it is on can be eliminated from the walk if you have the map with you and take a shortcut in the center of the field area where the trail comes closest together. Click here for more detailed info on these trails in the Heins Conservation Area.

A nice feature of the Leadmine trails is they offer regular trail markers that provide emergency info and a location number. I also really like that the field habitat offers relaxing views and is being managed to support birds that require successional field habitat. If you go, enjoy and stay safe!