Monday, November 23, 2009

Enjoy Nature at Mass Audubon Sanctuaries

If you are looking for access to nature, visit a Massachusetts Audubon sanctuary. Several of Mass Audubon's nature sanctuaries have wheelchair accessible trails and they are well worth visiting. Nature centers at selected properties feature a visitor center which serves as a hub of community activity, offering classes to the public and a trail system through a protected property. The All Person's Trails are typically an accessible loop at the start of a larger trail system.

I recently visited Broadmoor Sanctuary in Natick to experience the All Person's Trail there, a quarter mile loop that includes a boardwalk through the edge of a swampy marsh. It was a warm and sunny November day. The trees were mostly leafless and I was eager myself to have a little time outdoors after a long drive. I stopped in at the visitors center and spoke with a staff person to get an orientation. She pulled out a trail map and as we talked, pointed out that it isn't easy for people in wheelchairs to access quiet and beautiful natural places. Mass Audubon has been working hard to offer accessibility at their sanctuaries and she was pleased to be able to offer the trail at Broadmoor.

Soon I was out in the low sunshine of the afternoon, exploring a new place. A variety of small birds were active around a bird feeder in the yard. I could hear ducks and geese calling from the marsh. The trail beckoned right outside the doors of the visitor center. It's wide stone dust path starts at the edge of a field, travels downwards through a wooded edge of forest, then onto a boardwalk over the water. The scene before me was lit in golden light. I moved quietly down the trail and took in the beauty of the place and season for an hour or so, and by the time I had returned to my car, I felt recharged by this contact with nature.

You can find All Person's Trails around Massachusetts at several Mass Audubon Sanctuaries. I have been to the trails at Broad Meadow Brook in Worcester, Stony Brook in Norfolk, Pleasant Valley in Lenox, Arcadia in Easthampton, and Wellfleet Bay on Cape Cod. Each one offers something different, and all provide access into a variety of habitats, including wetlands, which makes for the best chance to observe an array of plants and wildlife.

Mass Audubon has also begun to develop sensory tours along these All Persons Trails. Stony Brook and Broadmoor have self-guided tours designed for people with visual impairments in particular are easy to use for anyone interested in this alternate format. These sensory tours emphasize tactile and audio elements of the place as well as provide an orientation. The sensory trail at Stony Brook has a cable for navigation, with signs in Braille and large print. At Broadmoor, the All Person's Trail has audio tour stops marked by yellow diamonds and verbal cues. Access to the tour is easy - just bring your cellphone and dial the number provided on site. I recommend using a blue tooth if you have one.

There is an admission fee of a few dollars for those who aren't members of Mass Audubon. Visitor centers have varying hours of operation and trail systems are usually open dawn until dusk. You can find out more using by looking up the sanctuary you wish to visit at Feel free to post comments here about your experiences using the All Person's Trails and sensory tours!

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