Thursday, March 29, 2012

Walking on the Wild Side at Rachel Carson NWR

Just returned from a few days in Maine where I checked out the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells and discovered a beautiful accessible nature trail. If you are looking for a dose of nature by the sea, this is a great place to view birds and wildlife. My partner Meb and I enjoyed the trail on a very windy day, so our sightings were limited to a few pairs of Canada geese, windblown crows, and a newly arrived phoebe with a huge bee in its beak. Having explored the Landholm Farm property adjacent to this one on other excursions, we can vouch for otters in the river and marsh hawks over the wetland. One of these days we'll have to go back for the rich experience of May, when bird migration is in full swing.

The trailhead with a modest visitor center is located on Old Port Road, just off of Route 1, where a sign indicates the refuge nearby. Its a shaded trail in and along a forest edge made of packed stone dust with side boards. The mile long trail travels the edge of the salt marsh in a big loop, with stunning views of the surrounding wetland and a river heading to the sea, which is visible at a distance. Eleven stations along the self-guided path offer numbered stops, most of which are viewing platforms with spectacular views of the meandering marshland and river. If you bring the trail brochure from the box at the parking lot, you can read about natural highlights at each stop.

The trail is in great shape, but be aware that several of the platform edges have experienced slight erosion so if you are using a wheelchair, there is a minor threshold-like bump up onto the deck in some spots.  We met some locals who said the trail gets submerged quite a bit in winter and that the other three seasons see regular use by people with disabilities. Other trail users reported seeing an exceptionally large otter.

If I lived nearby I'd be visiting there a lot.The place is a real tribute to Rachel Carson, whose writing made the complexities of ocean science understandable to the general public in the 1950s. Her controversial book Silent Spring, in which she exposed the threats of pesticide use to the natural world and humankind, launched a new era in conservation 50 years ago. Her courageous educational efforts inspired a public outcry that lead to the banning of the pesticide DDT and saved many bird species from extinction. Something to appreciate when listening to the songs of robins in your neighborhood this spring - or taking a walk on an accessible trail!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spring Into Cycling with Northeast Passage

Spring is springing so early this year! The weather is already great for cycling. I've seen people out on bikes everywhere I go and am looking forward to getting out on my bike this weekend.

If you are looking for adaptive cycling opportunities in New England, Northeast Passage is one of the best organizations around for cycling expertise and experiences. They offer a great selection of quality handcycles and recumbent bikes, including tandems and bikes for kids. Most, if not all, of their staff are certified therapeutic recreation specialists. Over the years I have always been impressed by their ingenuity and ability to support people with physical disabilities in competitive sports and amazing adventures, including summit hiking in the White Mountains.

Northeast Passage offers cycling clinics and rides throughout spring, summer and fall. Coming right up Saturday, March 24, is an Introductory Cycling Clinic in Durham, NH - a perfect chance to jump start into spring and try out a variety of bikes to see what works best for you. They'll have Top End and Quickie handcycles; Greenspeed, Hase and Trailmate foot-powered bicycles; tandems; and the new Lasher ATH handcycle designed for off road riding. This is a rain or shine event - indoors or out depending on the weather. The $20 fee is well worth it for the expertise and variety of quality bikes involved. Families and friends are welcome!

There are a couple other chances to ride with Northeast Passage coming up this spring. They will do another introductory cycling clinic in Cheshire, CT, on May 12 in conjunction with the Gaylord Sports Association.  

Northeast Passage will also host a clinic on Cape Cod with Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and CapeAble Adventures in Sandwich on May 19, followed by a ride on the Shining Sea Bike Path on May 20.

To find out more and sign up, contact Northeast Passage at 603-862-0700 or

Thanks to Dave Lee and Keely Ames for photos!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Adaptive Swim Lessons - Get Ready for Summer!

 "I am amazed with how comfortable my child has become in the water!! When we first introduced him to the water he had only fear and tears - now he looks forward to swimming!"

So says the parent of a current student of Courtney Buckley, a resident of Natick, Mass., who specializes in providing private swim lessons for people with disabilities in the Boston metrowest area. She has been offering swim lessons since 2006 and works with clients at the local pool or pond of their choice. Courtney uses adaptive teaching methods to accommodate individual needs at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.

Courtney has also served as program staff for several years with Stavros Outdoor Access, working one-to-one with hikers and skiers. I've noticed her consistently friendly presence makes everyone feel comfortable. Her swimming lessons are such a unique and wonderful resource I am passing this info on so more people might benefit!

"Most commonly I have used backyard pools, YMCA's, local hotel pools, state parks and town ponds", says Courtney. "I have experience with both adults and children - with anything from physical disability, TBI, developmental delay, autism, and plenty of high functioning individuals with a fear of water. I like to be in contact with my participants beforehand so I can bring materials that may help them swim. I love to have families and friends participate so that I can teach them the skills to practice, and my presence won't be necessary each time they are in the water. I do charge a small fee, mostly for transportation and material costs. If someone is looking for continuing lessons I can provide those too!"

"I like that Courtney never pushed me to do things I was uncomfortable with. She figured out a way to get me to swim independently and safely, and put up with my picky-ness", says Kara, another former client.

"All I wanted was for my kids to be safe at our lake home, now I am confident in their abilities in the water and I feel that they have the safety skills to join in water activities and parties with their friends as well!" reports the parent of twins, also former clients.

Courtney has taught 25 or so individuals with disabilities how to swim. If you live in the Boston or the surrounding area and want to learn or boost your swim skills, contact Courtney at

Monday, March 5, 2012

Go Get the Sweet Stuff!

DCR Maple Sugaring Programs

Tap into Nature during the Maple Sugar Days at Massachusetts State Parks!

This March, join the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and learn how maple syrup is made. Visitors will learn how the sap is collected from maple trees and boiled down to produce pure maple syrup! See below for a complete listing of programs. For all maple sugaring programs please wear sturdy footwear and warm clothing. Some fees apply as noted.

Regarding accessibility, Breakheart Reservation and Blue Hills Reservation/Brookwood Farm are   accessible sites for wheelchair users, including the visitor centers. At Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park, the visitor center is wheelchair accessible and the sugar house (very short distance) varies depending on snow cover. The Botume House at Middlesex Fells is not wheelchair accessible, nor is the Krug Sugarbush. Definitely call in advance to ask about accessibility and mud conditions!!!!

Saturday, March 3rd, noon

Middlesex Fells Reservation, 4 Woodland Road, Stoneham

The Tapping of the Trees!

Come to the Fells ‘sugar bush’ to tap maple trees for the upcoming Maple Sugaring’ event at Breakheart Reservation. Meet at the Botume House Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is located at 4 Woodland Road on Spot Pond. This program is free. For more information please call (781) 233-0834.

March 3 and 4th, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.

Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park, 287 Oak Street, Uxbridge

Maple Sugarmakers Open House!

Join the Blackstone Valley Sugaring Association and learn about the maple sugaring process. Please visit for more information or call 508 278-6486.

Saturday, March 17th, 9:00 a.m.-noon

Breakheart Reservation, 177 Forest Street, Saugus

Pancake Breakfast!

Join the Friends of Breakheart Reservation at the Christopher P. Dunne Visitor Center at Breakheart Reservation for their annual Pancake Breakfast. Visitors can eat delicious pancakes and watch DCR staff working in the Sugar Shack to see how syrup is made. There is a $5 admission fee. For more information please call (781) 233-0834.

Sunday, March 18th, 10:00 a.m.-2:00p.m.

Breakheart Reservation, 177 Forest Street, Saugus

Maple Sugaring!

Learn about the history of maple sugaring, participate in a tree identification activity, tap a maple, watch the evaporator at work in the Sugar Shack, and best of all taste the results! A $4 admission will support the program, used directly for the equipment you will see in action. For more information please call (781) 233-0834.

Saturday, March 10 & Sunday, March 11, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Brookwood Farm in the DCR Blue Hills Reservation in Milton

Maple Sugar Days!

It’s sugaring time in the Blue Hills! Join us as we make maple syrup in the traditional way at beautiful Brookwood Farm in Milton. Put on your boots and flannel shirt and join in the outdoor fun! Learn how to identify a sugar maple and see the sap drip into buckets from the trees. Travel along the trail of time and meet costumed characters demonstrating the changes in maple sugaring methods from Native Americans to Yankee farmers to modern day technology. Smell the wood smoke as you watch clouds of steam rise from the bubbling sap. Savor the taste of real maple syrup. Enjoy a free shuttle ride on the Maple Express Trolley. Activities are appropriate for all ages. Program admission is $6.00. Children under 2 are free. Maple Sugar Days is a joint program of the Department of Conservation and Recreation and Massachusetts Audubon’s Trailside Museum. The program admission fee is charged to benefit the Trailside Museum. This program is wheelchair accessible. For details or more information call (617) 698-1802 or (617)333-0690

Weekdays during March

Krug Sugarbush, Chesterfield

Maple Sugar Tours!

Join the Park Staff at the Krug Sugarbush weekdays during the month of March to see how maple syrup is produced. Visitors will learn first-hand how the sap is collected from maple trees and boiled down to produce pure maple syrup. Operation is based on weather, so please call one day prior to your visit. Advanced group reservations are welcome. For more information please call (413) 268-7098. (D.A.R. State Forest)

All events, programs and activities are subject to change. Please take a moment to call ahead to confirm and check on accessibility.