Monday, November 28, 2022

Mt. Tom Trailhead North Park Offers New Accessible Hiking Trail


The parking lot with Mt. Nonotuck distant.
         I broke out of office confinement on a sunny,  late November weekday afternoon to check out the new accessible trail at Mt. Tom Trailhead North Park in Easthampton. It was the right choice! Anticipating a relatively flat trail, I was surprised to find an accessible trail on a low mountain slope that climbs to a view.

        A 9-car parking lot at approximately 108 East Street is located at the foot of the western slope of Mt. Nonotuck. When I arrived, the lot was almost full, and once I parked it was full for cars not requiring one of the two accessible parking spaces. These spots were vacant. As I was getting ready to walk the recently constructed trail, a couple of cars came looking to park and left. Be aware that this Trailhead Park is a trailhead indeed, leading on to other hiking trails up the mountain. It's already a popular spot for hikers.

The start of the trail is relatively flat.
        The accessible portion of the trail, which starts everyone's climb upward, is built to U.S. Forest Service guidelines. The park's website states that trail grades between 5-8% do not exceed 200 feet in length, and trail grades from 8.5-10% do not exceed 30 feet. Based on this, there appears to be no more than a 10% grade on the .37 mile accessible section, which switchbacks up then culminates in a relatively level loop in an open field with views. 

Passing by birches along the trail.
        I was impressed with the upward travel so well-crafted that there are level sections with seating along the way. I would have guessed the grades were steeper. Traveling from one level section to another, the hiker is treated to an adjustment period before each next climb. Word on the street is that people using mobility devices have been enjoying the trail.

        As you traverse the terrain, you enjoy view of stately oaks from trunk level well into the canopy. Partway up a magnificent white birch stands in the open. When you reach the field, the birch is part of the landscape view at a distance. The perspective in this location is fantastic for opening your horizons and clearing your mind. 


A woman using walking sticks near an accessible picnic table.
        Although I didn't see anyone using a wheeled mobility device, an older woman was using hiking sticks. As I walked behind her, it dawned on me that this trail is idea for building one's strength and fitness for gentle climbing - a great outdoor rehabilitation area after surgery or long absence from substantial activity. The crushed stone trail makes for easy walking. The view at the field is a perfect hiker's reward. 

The field loop shows accessible picnic tables 
and a sweeping view.
      It is worth mentioning Little Mountain, a wooded knob next to the accessible field loop, that has a gentle hiking trail around it. Walkers who can handle a narrower footpath, steeper cross slopes, and increased but still gentle grade changes are likely to enjoy this adjacent trail as an extension of the trip, and as a miniature version of the larger mountainous outcroppings above.

     History buffs might enjoy learning about the Eyrie House ruins, located higher up at the top of Mt. Nonotuck. A former inn and recreational retreat was a popular destination in the 19th century.   

A trail kiosk with images of the views.
        For those who enjoy some intellectual stimulation, there are a series of wayside panels along the way that inform about the landscape, its geology, history, and inspirational aspects. Artwork from the 19th century is featured, as the area and its Connecticut River oxbow views inspired new attitudes towards nature at the time. Thomas Cole and other painters promoted a view of nature not as something to be feared and conquered, but as a place of great beauty and restorative energy. And indeed, that is what you can find on a stroll along this accessible trail!

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. 

Monday, November 14, 2022

Unpaved Trails For All - More Equity Needed to Nature's Health Benefits

Unpaved trail in Keene, NH offers river views.
        I recently had the pleasure of meeting Meg Bandarra, of Unpaved Trails For All, an organization she started to promote accessible trails with less constructed elements to help people connect better with nature. Trails designed for mobility devices can often feel like a track laid down in nature, especially when entirely paved or designed with wood edges and boardwalks. We don't have enough accessible trails - whether paved or unpaved - and I too have a deep appreciation for trails that feel as natural as possible. As a person with a disability whose life was changed when she discovered unpaved trails designed for mobility devices, Meg is a perfect spokesperson for this cause.

Monday, October 17, 2022

How to Build Independence as a Brain-injured Hiker

Cindi turns back on the trail to talk.
        "I went to one of the programs and my whole world changed. It saved me. All of a sudden, I got my life back. I found out that I can. I found out that I can ride a bike. I found out that I can go kayaking again. I can have a life!" - Cindi Gazda, 2015

        Cindi Gazda has been participating in DCR's Universal Access Programs for many years. I first remember meeting her outside a skating rink in Holyoke during a program around ten years ago. She hadn't come to skate but to find out about other recreation possibilities. After that, we saw her in nearly every activity year-round throughout the following years, with hiking usually first choice. 

        Her acquired brain injury came from an unfortunate mosquito bite, infecting her with eastern equine encephalitis. Subsequent slips and falls have kept her challenged with memory, vestibular, and knee issues. Prior to her brain injury, she had been an avid hiker, kayaker, and spontaneous RV camper with four kids. Like many people, she "knew nothing about disabled sports" until after her injury. 

Friday, September 9, 2022

Help Accessible Trail Signage Design by Visiting Walden Pond

Trailhead signage provides an overview.
    Fall is a great time to visit the parks - it's cooler and the parks are less crowded! At Walden Pond State Reservation in Concord, MA, the Thoreau House Site Trail is universally accessible for all visitors. It's a great outing for families and people of all ages with changing StoryWalks. An installation of temporary trail signage is up and needing your comments to help the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) develop good signage that works for everyone. Add a trip to Walden Pond to your places-to-go list this fall!

    If you would like to use a durable wheelchair on the trail, call in advance or stop by the Visitor Center to request the "trails chair". This accommodation offered by the park can be used independently, or supported by a family member, school staff person, or other caregiver pushing. See photo of the trails chair at Walden Pond at the end of this post.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Accessible Birding - and Anti-Racist Too!

A closed road side is an accessible birding
hotspot at a water treatment plant.
    Spring is emerging and birds are returning! Some of my favorite places to birdwatch are in Massachusetts State Parks. Accessible birding locations I enjoy include Belle Isle Marsh Reservation in E. Boston, the Norwottuck Rail Trail in Amherst/Hadley, and the Canalside Rail Trail in Turners Falls. In addition, I highly recommend Plum Island in Newburyport, Constitution Beach in E. Boston in winter, several ponds accessible via carriage roads in Borderland State Park, and Crosby Landing in Nickerson State Park on Cape Cod.

    As part of my job with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Universal Access Program, I have fond memories of birding with people with disabilities back in 2005-2010 and developing techniques to help more people use optics. Some of these techniques included the use of a monopod with binoculars and starting new birders in places with easy-to-view birds like waterfowl and herons. With changes in technology since then, I'm sure more strategies have emerged for providing the best experience possible for birders with disabilities.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Accessible Trails and Parks Along the Neponset River in Dorchester

Winter snowless view of trail with distant pavilion.
I have been visiting Pope John Paul II Park Reservation on the Neponset River in Dorchester over the past few months. The park offers open space with big sky, views of the water, and an urban exploration of nature. A paved series of loop trails allows for wheelchair access and fitness opportunities. Restoration and protection of the urban wild along the river gives nature lovers a chance to enjoy birds, especially in winter.

        Pope John Paul II, or PJP II, was once a landfill, and this is evident in the rolling terrain with a prominent hill. This is a specific park linked along the riverway to several other parks via 10 foot wide paved walkways and the Lower Neponset River Trail. From PJP II, located on Hallet Street in Dorchester, it is possible to achieve a summit experience, with 2 accessible shelters atop the grassy hill with picnic tables. A paved trail with very modest grades (<5%) make this hilltop very accessible. I hear its a great place to fly kites.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Adaptive Nordic Skiing Equipment and Techniques

A woman with a brain injury in a ski lesson. 
        You have to be willing to exert yourself for cross-country, also known as Nordic, skiing. This sport really separates out those who like to work for the benefits of exercise from those who are compelled to the extreme thrills of downhill skiing. I enjoy Nordic skiing for the tranquil connection to nature and the great cardio workout in fresh air. I relish exploring the landscape as I pole and glide along. The downhills are especially satisfying as you've earned them!!       

Nielsen sit-ski seats and frames without skis.

        To get off to a good start with adaptive Nordic skiing, some specialized equipment is necessary. For those with mobility impairments, a seated ski is usually the way to go. Like all equipment, sit-skis come in a variety of styles and sizes. For years in our adaptive winter programs we have used sit-skis designed by Bob Hall and Colin Dye, both athletes with disabilities. Recently we have added to our fleet to provide updated high performance options, and now offer a couple of Neilsen sit-skis as well. With all these designs, the ski is usually built custom for the individual, so we have had several on hand to best match up the right one for each skier.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Walking Sticks for Adaptive Hiking and Fitness

Three people prepare to walk with sticks.
        It occurred to me recently that the walking stick may be the oldest, and indeed most ancient, of adaptive equipment. What early human, or even creature, picked up a stick and used it to aid balance? That moment is for sure shrouded in the mists of time. 

        A natural, sturdy stick can be used as a crutch or a staff, providing balance for anyone, regardless of age or ability, while hiking on rugged or slippery terrain, or purely to stay upright and assist motion. The human history of walking sticks is quite interesting - for further info, click here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Ellisville Harbor Easy Walk to Rare Coastal Views

A flat, dirt trail through the woods.
Guest Post!
With permission for our Easy Walk friend, Marjorie Turner Hollman, here is her excellent post about an opportunity to experience an undeveloped coastal area and observe seals near Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Please note this is not a wheelchair accessible trail but does offer an easy walk to an overlook.                                                                                                                                      
This was 
our second visit to Ellisville Harbor State Park in Plymouth, MA. On our first visit in August, we were led to believe the path to the shoreline was at least a mile. Since my “on foot” range is about two miles, this would leave no energy for actually walking on the beach. We chose to head on, and ended up at Shifting Lots Preserve, another open space quite nearby. We returned to the state park on a cool day in December, and decided to try reaching the beach. Turns out, the trail is closer to a half mile out, well within my capabilities when the weather is cool outside.

Monday, November 22, 2021

A Wonderful Micro-Adventure in Story Walks

The Story Walk begins with the book cover.
        I just discovered a new Story Walk at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls. Perfect for Thanksgiving, though unrelated, the featured story is "Thank the Animals", a Native American tale shared by Passamaquoddy storyteller Allan Sockabasin.

        If Story Walks are new to you, this family-friendly concept combines children's stories with short walks. Storybook pages are presented in sequence on posts for a reasonable distance that can be on a lawn or along a sidewalk or trail. Walking as you enjoy a story is a welcoming way to exercise, or warm up for a longer walk. The Story Walk Project was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, VT, in 2007 and developed in collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. Now they can be found all over the U.S. and beyond.