Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Matt Gannon 1973-2011

Cynthia Yackenchick and Matt Gannon rolling by the river
in Turners Falls.
It is with much appreciation and sadness that I bear witness to the life and passing of Matt Gannon of Erving, Massachusetts. Matt was a participant in Universal Access Programs in recent years who especially enjoyed coming out in winter. Matt served in the US Marine Corps from March of 1993 to May of 1994, when he was honorably discharged after being hit by a car while off-duty and stationed in Japan. Matt suffered traumatic brain injury and was quadriplegic as a result of this accident. His indomitable spirit helped him tough it out in a body that he could not much use for the rest of his life. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Upcoming Events Last Week of February

Try sit skiing, snowshoeing and more at Wendell State Forest!
Don't let winter melt away without planning an end of February Winter Blast! Here's a mix of exciting opportunities for the last week of February in New England!

DCR's Universal Access Program:
Outdoor Recreation at Wendell State Forest, Wednesday, February 23 and Saturday, February 26 - Join us for the last 2 winter program in Wendell, a rural town in western Massachusetts located 20 minutes east of Greenfield. Here's your chance to enjoy as many activities as conditions permit: snowmobile ride, ice skating, kicksledding, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing! 11am - 3pm. Call All Out Adventures at 413-527-8980 to register.

Mike Hanson FInds a New Job While Hiking

Mike hikes in the snow as well as during summer months!
Last June I wrote a post about Mike Hanson, a blind man from Minnesota who was through-hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise awareness about the abilities of blind people. He was testing a method of using GPS (global positioning system) to aid navigation for blind users in challenging terrain. Mike was recently featured in local Minnesota news for his ongoing achievements.

Mike completed 1700 miles of the 2174 mile trek, hiking from March into October, enduring all the hardships every hiker takes on - steep grades, narrow rocky paths, dropoffs, mosquitoes, bears, wind, extreme weather, thunderstorms. His GPS system, which he spent two years designing, worked fairly well on the trail, but also slowed down his time relative to the pace of sighted hikers. He and Gary Steffens, his trail companion who filmed the journey, also relied on a conventional map to navigate. Though the prototype technology was not fully reliable for the complexities of mountain trails, the two men discovered that they had a unique tool in hand for overcoming significant navigational challenges that blind people face everyday in ordinary life.

While on the trail, Mike received a phone call from a businessman in Minnesota, who offered him a job - to develop real time navigation for people with visual impairments. Mike accepted the offer, ending his hike short of his original goal, but fully succeeding in his mission to raise awareness of the capabilities of blind people and adaptive technology. His patron is now seeking funding to make Mike the CEO of a brand new company.

You can read more about Mike's story in greater detail here, including further description of his time on the trail and the navigational system he plans to develop. Go Mike!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Urban Skating Outdoors!

Bay Cove Day Habilitation joined us on the ice for a variety
of spontaneous games.
Tuesday was ccccccccoooold and winddddddddy but we squeaked in an outdoor skating session at the Kelly Rink in Jamaica Plain with a few playful souls. What is it about the cold? I admit I was reluctant to get out of bed this morning, yet once on the ice in that crazy wind, I wasn't the only one who warmed up quickly! Smiles abounded as everyone became energized in play. There is an added spirit of adventure in braving the elements and finding you can be comfortable and enjoy yourself. Of course, hot cocoa helps too!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dreaming of Summer? Time to Start Planning!

If you are winter weary or just want to fast forward towards summer, here are a few things to consider as you dream of warm weather, green trees and open water:

Yurt Camping 
Now is the time to make reservations for accessible yurts and cabins in Massachusetts State Parks! Several parks from Cape Cod to the Berkshires offer great accommodations (including electricity!)that make camping easier than ever before! Reservations open up 6 months in advance so we are already booking for mid-July! Click here for more info on yurt camping and here for more general info on camping in Massachusetts State Parks.

Beach Wheelchairs
Boardwalks and beach wheelchairs help make beaches more accessible. Our popular wheelchair buggies are available throughout Massachusetts State and Urban Parks on both inland and ocean beaches. Families and couples with a variety of disabilities have made regular use of these chairs over the years. They feature a movable arm for easy transfer from wheelchairs. Use is free - we recommend calling in advance to ensure a chair will be ready for your arrival. Click here for more info!

Accessible Sailing
If you are planning a trip to Boston this year, come sail on the Charles River with Community Boating. With adapted Mercury and Sonar sailboats, you can sail independently or in a supportive group with friends and family. Adaptive sailing takes place every day of the week from May 2 through October 2. With a brand new dock and a hoyer lift, plus a daily schedule, sailing this summer will be better than ever! Many participants who live in the Boston area sail regularly and have earned various sailing certifications. You can read about a participant's experience here!

Last, but not least, stay tuned for our summer program schedule of kayaking, cycling, hiking and other activities at numerous locations around Massachusetts - it won't be out for awhile, but you can get a newsletter via email or U.S. mail - just email me at and put "summer!" in the subject box.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Family Fun Day at the Weston Ski Track

Jennifer Willoth turned 24 today and celebrated
with a long run on a modified sitski
 around the 2km track.
Today's first Universal Access winter program at the Weston Ski Track was a fantastic success. Several families with disabilities enjoyed the groomed snowpack along with hundreds of other winter enthusiasts. After yesterday's storm, the sun shone and everyone revelled in spring-like temperatures. I was struck by how many of our young participants tried out the entire range of equipment we had to offer.

An energetic girl named Katy was just such an explorer of the options. She tried snowshoeing, skiing, and kicksledding, even using poles while seated to contribute to her momentum.

Liam and Aidan Moore skied and kicksledded with staff and volunteers. With two years of experience at UA programs they were both relaxed in the bright and busy scene. Their mom Patti hopes other families with autism will join them in enjoying the outdoors via our programs.

Marian Irwin gets a little support with the aid
of a gait belt to assist her balance.
It was 18 year old Marian Irwin's first time on skis. She came with her mother and aunt, who also got on skis and had a lesson of their own. After Marian got used to being on the snow using a ski-walker for balance, she quickly graduated to using ski poles. At the end of their excursion, her smiling mother announced they would be back!

We'll be back at the Weston Ski Track next Sunday, February 13th from 12 noon to 4pm. We'll return again the following holiday Monday, February 21, then again for the next two Sundays. Thanks to Brenda Davies and her excellent crew of staff and volunteers for their buoyant spirits and attentive support of families on the snow. To register for upcoming programs, call her at 413-259-0009.

CLICK HERE for more photos on facebook!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Tough Decision for Program Coordinators

We hope we saved you from this view of the road today!
We called off our winter festival scheduled for today, with deep regrets, due to a difficult weather forecast of afternoon rain and sleet. Much goes into such a decision. There are many factors, including the excruciating variability of the weather forecasts and their accuracy.

Dunn Park is a winter wonderland, carved out by bucket loader, snow blowers, and shoveling, thanks to DCR's commitment to the event and hours of dedicated work by staff. We were working to the last minute to have the park accessible for winter recreation activities. Tom McCarthy, our Universal Access Program Director, held tightly to a vision of holding the event right up until noon on Friday. We hated to think about cancelling an event that has been exceptionally popular in past years and has attracted many phone calls and inquiries in the last few weeks.

With the possibility of  heavy wet snow, sleet, and freezing rain, we had concerns about the event becoming uncomfortable for everyone, especially more vulnerable or seated participants. Our ultimate concern was safe driving for everyone at the end of a long day. It is always tough for those who coordinate outdoor programs to grapple with such decisions. We feel this is our best event of the year. It has always been a magical experience for everyone who comes. We hated to do it. We weren't even sure it was the right decision yesterday, since the reality can be different from the forecast.

When I saw a few peeks of sun and blue sky this morning, I had my doubts about our decision. This afternoon, when the rain and sleet rolling in, I felt a whole lot better about it, though still disappointed. We hope everyone who had planned to come got news of the cancellation, either by direct phone call (if we knew you were coming), email, state radio, word of mouth, or by checking our message machines.

The sun will shine tomorrow for our program at the Weston Ski Track, which includes cross country skiing, sit skiing, snowshoeing, and kicksledding. We also encourage anyone interested in downhill skiing to check out the Adaptive Ski Program at Wachusett Mountain. Whether you come to a program or not to explore adaptive winter recreation, I hope you are finding enjoyment in the beauty of winter despite its numerous challenges this year!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Universal Access Program Winter Update

It's snowing like crazy! We already have two feet of it and are getting two more this week. Of course this is New England, but even this amount of snow is unusual for us in the river valleys, the southern section and along the coast. It has been fabulous for winter sports all around and our Universal Access program schedule hasn't suffered any cancellations so far. We are keeping our fingers crossed that we'll be able to clear the next two feet of snow and have a fantastic winter festival in Gardner this weekend!

This past Saturday at Mt. Tom State Reservation in Holyoke, I had the pleasure of tagging along with a small group of cross country skiiers testing their skills on the accessible trail at Lake Bray. Despite being a wheelchair accessible trail in summer, there are a couple of spots with grades higher than 10% for some distance and a few challenging turns on hills for skiers. The half mile loop was sufficient adventure for two mother-daughter pairs skiing with a leader, Brian Mernoff from All Out Adventures.

Yesterday at the D.A.R. State Forest in Goshen, Brenda Davies of Outdoor Access trained a handful of staff in preparation for upcoming programs and took a few people with disabilities out on the quarter mile accessible lake edge trail on snowshoes and a kicksled. Frank Grindrod of EarthWork Programs attended and shared his knowledge of the forest. A few of us delighted in mink tracks that crossed our trail and disappeared into a tiny mysterious tunnel. Frank has been assisting on Universal Access winter programs and hikes for a couple of years now and building his skills serving people with disabilities. Thanks Frank!

Only one pair of poles needed
on a sighted guide snowshoe assist
for a blind participant!
Though most of our participants have been ambulatory in the past week, they've also had a range of disabilities including severe arthritis, blindness, and cognitive impairments. I'm impressed with women over 70 and 80 years of age who are bundling up and taking on snowy trails. Kudos to everyone for getting out there to play and enjoy the winter wonderland!!! Thanks to the staff of All Out Adventures and Outdoor Access for providing fun, safe programs customized for each individual's needs.