Sunday, December 22, 2013

Unique Invention's Ice Sleds

A gentle game of hockey shows ice sleds with and without
stroller bars attached.
Seated ice skates offer a greater opportunity for skaters of all abilities to have fun on the ice. Not just for people who use wheelchairs, ice sleds give ambulatory people with balance,  fatigue, and other issues the ability to switch skating modes and explore new ways to move and play.

DCR's Universal Access Program has been providing ice sleds at state rinks for about 15 years. Ice sleds built by Unique Inventions of Peterborough, Ontario have met our standard for program use and provided hours of fun for users of all abilities indoors and out.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Walk on the Wild Side in Boston

Inspired by recent completions of sensory trails by Massachusetts Audubon, I visited two sanctuaries in the Boston area just before Thanksgiving.

The trail at Boston Nature Center offers easy access to a
natural place.
At the Boston Nature Center in Mattapan, I discovered a fragment of wild space where birds and other wildlife take refuge from the buzz of surrounding urban activity. A quick mid-day walk on the 1-2 miles of trails revealed a flock of wild geese flying over, a perched red-tail hawk, a gaggle of wild turkeys in the underbrush, and a foraging flock of songbirds, including one of my favorites, the white-throated sparrow. It was easy to find birds with the leaves down. With very little effort I got a much needed dose of nature!

A mile of the trails includes audio tour stops, which you can access with your cell phone. Since I was short on time, I opted out of the audio component and let the signage guide me along the wide level trails. The Boston Nature Center is located on the former state hospital grounds and so healing is a featured theme on site. Just the presence of a natural sanctuary space offers a sense of healing. I was surprised to find a hidden body of water suitable for migrating waterfowl to rest, well secluded from urban stimulus but viewable from a wheelchair accessible boardwalk.
Later in the day at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, I activated the audio tour there and found it a helpful addition to my enjoyment of the Ice Pond Trail and the start of the Farmyard Loop Trail, before my battery died. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged if you plan to visit any one of the ten Mass Audubon sanctuaries statewide that feature these Sensory Explorations Trails for all senses, all seasons, all people. The trails are a wonderful self-guided interpretive resource in the natural landscape. The audio tours provide a comfortable amount of information and a user friendly approach that allows you to listen only when and where you wish.

Sensory trail interpretation doesn't get any better than this!
I was delighted by stops along the Ice Pond Trail that featured plaques with sculptural renditions of local wildlife. The trail itself offers a navigational system with a rope mounted along a wooden fence with large wooden beads indicating signed stops. Small signs provide titles for audio tour highlights in large print and Braille. Sculptural plaques provide a tactile opportunity to compare size and features of pond residents. This type of feature demonstrates the commitment and dedication Mass Audubon has for serving people of all abilities at their sanctuaries.

People with visual impairments and other disabilities were consulted in the development of these trails, which are well worth visiting whether or not you have a disability! Find out more by clicking here!

At the end of the short Ice Pond Trail, I passed the Drumlin Farm Visitor Center and continued on the Farmyard Loop Trail where I immediately encountered several wild turkeys in and alongside the trail. Since it was the day before Thanksgiving it seemed like an appropriate surprise to be running into turkeys in each sanctuary! These were very calm and relaxed, not bothered by human presence at all.

There is an opportunity to observe rehabilitated wildlife in outdoor aviaries and exhibits before the farm yard tour. I was a bit transfixed by the unexpected chance to observe a fisher loping and jumping throughout its hillside habitat on Bird Hill – what an energetic and lithe creature!

Bring a map with you for the Farmyard Loop Trail. When my cell phone died after Bird Hill I couldn’t figure out which way to go to sequence the stops. With a rainstorm pending, I headed back up to the gift shop to do a little holiday shopping. No matter what, you have great choices at Mass Audubon!

I look forward to returning to Drumlin Farm for the farmyard tour! 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Adaptive Bocce in Massachusetts

The Italian game of bocce is a fun, versatile and inexpensive sport that can be adapted for play by people with disabilities. Long known as an intergenerational pastime in Italian communities, it is especially favored by older men as a way to enjoy long afternoons. Bocce can be played anywhere balls can be rolled out on flat ground or on standardized courts. Official rules can be simplified for easy play with kids. A set of bocce balls can be purchased for as little as $25.

This year I've been exploring ways to play bocce and how it can be adapted for people of all abilities. I took a bag of the eight colorful and hard bocce balls and the small white one known as a jack to my neighborhood swimming pool and initiated informal games on the lawn, where curious kids jumped in to play. I also played it with friends indoors seated on a large rug which defined our court. If you haven't played bocce it is definitely worth getting to know this game! 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Cindy Walker's Paralympic Journey Towards Rio

Photo courtesy of U.S. Sailing.

met Cindy Walker when she came to one of our ice skating programs last year and have been marveling at her journey ever since. 

Thanks Cindy for your Guest Post on what it is like to train as a Paralympic athlete! 

Best of luck on your way to Rio! 

Readers can support Cindy's journey at

      Sailing for me started as a hobby and has become a passion. In my eyes sailing is one of the only sports where everyone, can take part, unless you’re afraid of the water.  I have truly become a sailor at heart. Whether I’m racing or on the water with my family and friends I’m at peace. 
The first thing that comes to mind about being a Paralympic sailor might be sacrifice, but at the end of the day I whole heartedly enjoy what I do, so in hindsight I’m not sacrificing anything because there isn’t anything I’d rather be doing with my life. I am on the “Road to Rio” aka, training and competing for the next 3 years in the hopes of representing the U.S. at the 2016 summer Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Crotched Mountain Accessible Trails

View of nearby ridge from the top of the Gregg Trail.
Looking for an accessible hike in gorgeous New England mountain scenery? Get yourself to Crotched Mountain! It’s worth the drive!

Recently Tom McCarthy and I found our way to Crotched Mountain in New Hampshire for an autumn treat. It was a 2 hour drive from Amherst, Massachusetts. We’ve been curious about two accessible trails at the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center that offer a hiking opportunity on the wilder side and wanted to get some “state of the art” inspiration. These are the longest accessible hiking trails in a mountain environment in the U.S. and are recognized by Yankee Magazine and New Hampshire Magazine as the best wheelchair accessible trails in 2013.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Take a Fundraising Walk!

Have you ever been on a fundraising walk? Don Summerfield, a stroke survivor living in the Boston area, is a long time participant in DCR’s Universal Access Programs. He also participates in fundraising walks to raise money for important causes. On the morning of October 6th while watching the news, he saw that a walk was happening at DCR’s Hatch Shell on the Esplanade. He hustled down there and joined the walk on the spur of the moment. From his excitement I am learning more about these types of events. Thanks Don for your Guest Post!
I woke up this morning, and while watching the news, one the team leaders of Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk at the Hatch Shell was talking about falling then getting up 8 times as a metaphor for being a Breast Cancer Survivor. I felt a strong urge to help her and others fight this scourge! Getting a second chance to walk again after my stroke in 2002 helped me realize that by walking for others that can't, I can help!

I jumped in to help raise awareness, since I didn’t have time to secure donations for this walk, which had no entrance fee or fundraising minimum. The longest choice was 6 miles. I picked a 2 mile route and walked one mile. Despite occasional rain, it was great walking weather! I saw one person in a wheelchair and no doubt other people with disabilities were present. 40,000 people walked for this event and over 3 million dollars were raised! Not all the walking has to happen on the day of the event, so there are lots of ways to participate.
I like fundraising walks for giving back to those in need and to thank those who give us so much. They are lots of fun! You get to walk with folks that have similar values, like giving back. It is great exercise too!  Of all the fundraising walks I've done, two have made a very lasting impression. One is the BABIS Heads Held High Brain Injury Awareness Walk, which I have done 8 times! I also did the MS WALK in 2010. I’ve raised between $100 and $3000 per walk. Some walks do have fees or fundraising minimums so I usually prepare in advance.
I also raise money directly by word of mouth. Please contact the group that you feel will do the most good! Consider taking a walk to help!!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Tour the Boston Harbor Islands!

I recently spent a day on Spectacle Island in Boston Harbor. What a refreshing outing so close to Boston! Just off shore, with the city in full view, you can experience an island getaway!

Boston Harbor has a surprising number of islands - most people don't realize the islands are even there, let alone 34 of them! Many are part of a combined National and State Park and accessible by ferry from Long Wharf. The islands offer hiking trails, beaches, ranger tours, camping, boat cruises, nature walks, historic sites and various events throughout the warmer months. There are even a few winter tours.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Paddling the Quinebaug River

Fall is a great time for paddling, especially on  warmer days with fall color along the edges of wetlands. I escaped the office one day this week with intrepid flatwater adventurers Charlie and Bob and got onto the Quinebaug River in central Massachusetts. Charlie and Bob continue to explore rivers on a weekly basis three years after my last excursion with them. What a life they live!

The Quinebaug is a 5 mile stretch of a narrow river and a national recreation trail that winds through open wetlands between Holland Pond and the East Brimfield Reservoir just east of Brimfield. The current is gentle so we paddled both upstream and down, basking in the beauty of a sunny day in a remote place loaded with autumn color. Herons and migrating birds were easy to view. Few people were using the river on a weekday but we did see a couple of fishermen and paddlers. Clear water allowed us to enjoy the streaming vegetation beneath our canoe and kayaks and catch glimpses fish and swimming turtles. I was thrilled to experience a few hours in this magnificent place.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Cape Cod Adventure!

Have you been to Cape Cod for a vacation? Did you have an easy time or difficulty with access? If you are looking for more accessibility information on one of the most popular vacation spots on the east coast, David Whitenett offers his perspective as a person who uses a power wheelchair in search of trails to enjoy nature. Thanks Dave for sharing your experiences in this Guest Post!
In late August 2012, my wife Brenda and I visited Cape Cod. We did a lot of Internet research before our visit to find information about accessibility, and that effort paid off. We were there for three days and two nights. We spent the majority of our time exploring locations in the Cape Cod National Seashore, plus some time in Chatham and Yarmouth.
Continue reading for site by site descriptions!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Accessible Parks in NE Massachusetts

This accessible picnic spot along the Ipswich
River offers a sense of privacy and beautiful view.
I visited two state parks last week that I highly recommend for access to the outdoors.

Both are located north of Boston in Massachusetts. Breakheart Reservation is a rocky forested area with ponds just north of the big city in Saugus. Bradley Palmer State Park is a former estate along the Ipswich River in Topsfield. These parks offer wonderful opportunities to enjoy nature through the seasons.

Breakheart Reservation was named by some lonely soldiers posted there during the Civil War era I learned from a fellow hiker. We shared the task of pulling a participant in a rickshaw style mountain wheelchair during a Universal Access hiking program through the park. Traveling along the two mile paved road loop through the park I was reminded that the road makes the park quite accessible, even with some hilly terrain. Indeed we passed someone walking using a rolling walker and another person using a cane for stability. It was great to see people with many levels of mobility using the park road that day.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

I Love Kayaking!

Do you love kayaking? Marianne Somes is one of many paddlers with disabilities who have been making good use of adaptive kayaking programs offered by DCR's Universal Access Program this summer in Massachusetts. If you feel hesitant or fearful about kayaking, read on!  If you love kayaking, can you say it better than this? Thanks Marianne for sharing your passion for the outdoors in this Guest Post!

Hello to all you wonderful people out there! My name is Marianne Somes and I love being outdoors. I love kayaking as it is so freeing and relaxing. The kayak I use is a Kestrel 120 OC with two small pontoons on the back end for extra stability. Kayaks are very stable boats to begin with and the addition of the two small pontoons to this boat makes it extremely stable.

I have been kayaking for years now with adaptive programs. I would live on a kayak if I could.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Greater Access to Nature at Mount Tom State Reservation

Beautiful ten acre Lake Bray at Mount Tom.
Now that late summer is arriving and mosquitoes are just a bit less pesky, consider an outing at Mount Tom State Reservation in Holyoke, MA, where a recently built bridge across the wilder backwaters of Lake Bray offers a new view of the park to visitors with mobility limitations in the Connecticut River Valley.

The trail extension project, initiated by the Mount Tom Advocacy Group,drew upon community resources to expand the existing universally accessible woodland trail system. Bill Finn, a member of the Advocacy Group, wrote a proposal for funding which was granted by the federally funded Recreational Trails Grant Program. With a $7000 award, help from the Appalachian Mountain Club and other volunteers, the entire project cost 1/10 of what it would have cost had the work been done with contractors. The new trail provides better grading and 3 bridges to bring hikers more easily to a wetland area at the back of Lake Bray that is rich with wildlife. Kudos to all the volunteers who put in over 800 man hours to complete the project!!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Dunn State Park - Great Park for Access!

Perfect weather for the ADA celebration!
The Massachusetts Statewide Independent Living Council (MASILC) just held a 23rd Anniversary Celebration of the Americans With Disabilities Act at Dunn State Park in Gardner on August 2nd

Dunn State Park is a 130 acre day use facility with a 20 acre pond, shaded picnic tables, wooded trails, waterfront swimming area, fishing docks, play area and clean indoor restrooms in the Pond House. It is a beautiful spot just north of downtown Gardner on Route 101 in north central Massachusetts. Every activity people come to the park to do is wheelchair accessible!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Cycling for Seniors with All Out Adventures

Matt from AOA and Nick enjoy
exchanging information about
recumbent bikes.
Think you are too old to ride a bike? Think again!
Today while visiting our adaptive cycling program on the Norwottuck Rail Trail, I met 85 year old Nick on his birthday, shopping for a recumbent bike. He just happened to be driving by our program, noticed the sign and stopped in hopes that he'd find a bike for sale.

Recumbent bicycles offer many ergonomic advantages over conventional two wheel bicycles, especially as we age. Pedaling in a reclined position puts less pressure on joints and uses leg muscles more efficiently. Three wheeled recumbents make balancing a breeze.
Two wheeled recumbents provide a more conventional ride with the advantages of recumbent ergonomics.
Keep reading to find out more!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Gimp Monkeys One Year Anniversary

Even if rock climbing is not your thing, you have to give a gorilla yell for the Gimp Monkeys. Who are they? Three guys each missing a limb, who climbed El Capitan in Yosemite National Park on their own last year. Three guys. Four nights. Five days. Three thousand feet straight up.
Lots of climbers summit El Capitan in less time, but until the Gimp Monkeys, there had never been an all-disabled ascent.

When I was in Colorado in April, I had the amazing opportunity to listen to Craig DeMartino, the lead monkey, speak about the events in his life that lead up to such a spectacular accomplishment. No doubt about it, his life has pushed him beyond his limits and then some. Rarely have I been present for such a riveting presentation. How would you feel if your leg fell off while suspended in mid-air high up on a cliff face?

Craig has been a climber all his life. His whole family lives to finesse their way up vertical rock, Craig most of all. One day Craig went on belay and despite all his experience, made a simple mistake that sent him plummeting 100 feet to the ground. He landed on both feet and shattered one leg. He acquired a neurological disorder on top of the bone breakage and oh, a few other problems any one of which would stop me in my tracks. He thought he would never climb again. Eventually he got a prosthetic leg. Then he climbed again. He couldn't stand not climbing. He was scared to keep climbing. He kept climbing.

People like Craig set the bar high and push through emotional and attitudinal as well as physical barriers to achieve what no one has conceived of achieving before, changing our societal concept of what is possible. Despite feeling terrified at the idea of pursuing a climb of significant magnitude, Craig could not seem to live with himself if he didn't try. Eventually he formed a team with Jarem Frye, another single leg amputee, and Pete Davis, who was born with one arm incomplete. Together, they created the first All-Disabled Ascent of El Cap, which they completed a year ago today. See it right here:

Amazing inspiring attitudes, right?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Access to the Garden!

If you are inspired by spring and like to garden, or just think you might like to garden, you'll want to check out Access to the Garden, the blog and facebook page of Brenda Brown Parent, who shares her gardening passion as woman with incomplete quadriplegia. Access to the Garden is full of beautiful photographs and personal tales on many fronts, including Brenda's advocacy for accessibility of public properties.

Brenda lives in South Carolina, so her gardening season is well ahead of ours in New England where we've been enjoying daffodils and now the sudden surge forward of spring in early May. Brenda is a fan of raised beds of course and liking her facebook page is a great way to find out what's hot in the world of accessible gardening, like these rolling raised planters. Tips on planting and design abound, with lots of comments by other gardeners. While Brenda is a potent advocate for accessible garden design, her fresh perspective is enjoyed by all. Check her out on Pinterest too, where you'll find several articles and videos.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Garden of the Gods - Accessible Highlight in Colorado Springs

While in Colorado Springs last week, I visited Garden of the Gods to counter balance the rigors of an indoor conference. I can't recommend this park enough for a highly accessible outdoor opportunity in Colorado. It is a free city park with the scenic splendor of a national park, and a well planned accessible trail in the heart of the park's fantastic red rock formations.

Situated at the base of Pike's Peak, the easternmost 14,000 foot mountain in the U.S., the Garden of the Gods offers incredible panoramic views of the transitional environment where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. Geology is dramatically displayed everywhere you look. The various colored outcroppings of rock were once sea beds, covered over time by other layers, then lifted vertically when what is now Pike's Peak uplifted from the earth. Over more time, erosion exposed the formations we see today. Its pretty wild to consider all that movement of the earth's surface while strolling the intriguing landscape on a firm, slip resistant, stable surface!

An Autism Alliance group starts a hike on the
wheelchair accessible Perkins trail.
The Garden of the Gods Visitor Center overlooks the main entrance of the park. It is well worth stopping here to enjoy the panoramic view and wheelchair accessible facility with nature exhibits and cafe before driving into the park.

The Perkins Central Garden Trail is a 1 1/2 mile long loop of 8 foot wide sidewalk with an elevational change of 30 feet as it winds among well-named rock formations such as Kissing Camels and Three Graces. There is a lengthy gradual grade descending from the main parking area that may present more challenge for some, so assistance might be needed for manual wheelchair users if you park in the first parking lot. There is a separate "handicap access only" parking area with several parking spots for more level access to the formations past the main parking lot as you drive a one way route through the park.

A black-billed magpie along the accessible trail.

Among the varying rocks, junipers, pines and scrub it is easy to spot rabbits and a variety of birds as you explore, including black-billed magpies, spotted towhees, pinon jays and a few birds familiar to easterners like robins and chickadees. The high rocks are alive with birds like white-throated swifts and ravens making use of their many eroded niches and holes for nesting.

The start of the Canyon Cabin trail offers level access
into a dry wash.

Four other "handicap access only" parking lots offer additional access at other locations throughout the park. Other parking areas all seem to have accessible parking spots. The ones I saw had curb cuts onto the start of trails. The park is heavily used so hiking trails are well packed and worn which allows for some wheelchair exploration at the start. The Canyon Cabin trail is a good choice for another look into the park. This trail enters a dry wash and offers a view of the Siamese Twins, a formation outside the accessible trail area. Most trails soon become rocky with challenging grades or built-in steps. The continuous process of erosion from trail use keeps a layer of loose material on the surface which requires caution for hikers.

Drive all the way through the park and you'll pass right between Balanced Rock and Steamboat Rock, where you can also stop and take pictures. Just past that you'll find the Garden of the Gods Trading Post with gift shop and cafe.

Popular activities in the park besides hiking and nature observation are technical rock climbing, bicycling, and horseback riding, all easy to observe as you enjoy the scene. Lots of people make use of this great location, including disability groups. Don't miss it if you are in Colorado!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Accessible Spring Happenings in the Parks

Here's a peek at some early spring happenings in Massachusetts State Parks. These events are recommended for their wheelchair accessible locations and diverse offerings across the Commonwealth.


21st Annual Spring Egg Hunt - Saturday, March 23 - Pope John Paul II Park, 763 Gallivan Blvd, Dorchester. Join the DCR and Phillips Candy House in a wonderful spring tradition. Children of all ages can join in the hunt for toy filled plastic eggs scattered across the fields with accessible trails. Event starts at 11am sharp.For more info call 617-333-7404 x 104. Free fun for the whole family and a great way to welcome springtime in the great outdoors.

Adaptive Skating - Tuesday, April 9 - 11:30am-1:30pm - Cronin Rink, 850 Revere Beach Parkway, Revere. This is DCR Universal Access Program's last skate of the season. Celebrate winter's end with gliding and games on the ice indoors - we'll even fly kites! Come onto the ice as you are - we have ice sleds, ice skates, yak trax, skate walkers, helmets and of course lots of colorful balls and pucks and kites. Call 617-626-1294 to register.


Great programs at Dunn State Park, 289 Pearl Street (101) in Gardner! For more information call (978) 632-7897.

Children's Story Hour - Wednesdays at 10am through April 24; Join us at the Dunn State Park Pond House Visitors Center for a children’s book reading around the fireplace on Wednesday mornings at 10am. This is a free program for young children and home schoolers. Come for a different story each week.

Photography Through The Seasons - Sunday, April 14 - 1pm. Join fellow photographers of all levels at the Pond House Visitor Center and share your photographs and experience. We invite you to bring one or two photographic prints to share with others and tell the story behind the image. Share your experience and expertise with others around the fireplace and then venture out on the trails to capture new images. Bring your camera. Program dates may extend beyond April depending on interest.

Poetry and Prose of the Outdoor World - Sunday, April 21 - 1pm. Join us in the warmth of the Pond House to share your favorite poems and prose of nature and the outdoors. We invite you to bring your own writings or those of a favorite poet or author that illustrate nature or the outdoors from hunting, camping, hiking, or just contemplation. If your own, tell the story behind it, or if someone else’s, tell us why you may have selected it or why it is special. Bring a journal if you wish and sit around a warm fire in the lodge style atmosphere of the Dunn Pond House Visitor Center.


Exhibit Expeditions! Saturday, March 30 - 1pm - Great Falls Discovery Center, 2 Avenue A, Turners Falls.
Interested in birds, reptiles, and mammals!? Well we have an experience for you! Join park rangers as we journey along the Connecticut River within the Great Falls Discovery Center. All ages welcome! Call 413-863-3221 for more info.

Holyoke Merry-Go-Round at Holyoke Heritage State Park downtown: Open Noon to 4pm Saturdays and Sundays through spring. Wheelchair accessible! Call 413-538-9839 for more info.

New England Invitational Sled Hockey Tournament - April 26-28 - Amelia Park, 21 South Broad Street, Westfield. Three days of sled hockey competition among adult and junior teams from around the Northeast. Don't miss it! Call 413-568-2503 for more info.


At the Western Heritage Gateway State Park, Visitors Center, in North Adams learn more about the sun and the world of kites!

Sun Science, History and Culture - Saturday, March 23 - Program starts at 3pm

The Sun and the Great Moon Hoax - Saturday, March 30 - Program starts at 3pm

Paper Trails - Science, History and Culture of Kites Exhibit - March 23-June 8

Friday, March 1, 2013

Accessible Maple Sugaring Guide

Once again, we've come around to the magical time of year that still feels like winter, but is showing signs of spring. The days are gradually lengthening, the sun is a little brighter, and the sap is already flowing! Break out of the house, take a deep breath of fresh air and visit a state park for a sweet taste of the 2013 season!

Anyone living in eastern Massachusetts can take advantage of these special weekend events offered by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation listed below. For those further away from the Boston area, scroll down to the end of this list.

March 2 - Tapping of the Trees - Middlesex Fells Reservation, Stoneham, 12 noon. Come to the Fells ‘sugar bush’ to tap maple trees at Breakheart Reservation. Meet at the Bothume House visitor center. The visitor center is located at 4 Woodland Road on Spot Pond in Middlesex Fells Reservation. This program is free. For more information please call (781) 233-0834. The Botume House is not wheelchair accessible.

March 2-3 - Maple Sugar Days -  Riverbend Farm, Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park, Uxbridge 11am-2pm. Co-sponsored with the Blackstone Valley Sugaring Association. Park staff and volunteers take you through the art and science of producing maple syrup. See trees being tapped, participate in gathering sap, and visit the steamy sugar house to watch syrup being made. Tours include both indoor and outdoor elements. Please dress for the weather, wear appropriate footwear for a short walk. Program is free for all ages and open to the public. Reasonable accommodations available upon request. To check on event status, please call River Bend Farm Visitor Center, located at 287 Oak Street, at 508-278-7604. Call to verify that sugarhouse is accessible if you use a wheelchair. Exhibits at Riverbend Farm are wheelchair accessible.

March 9-10 - Maple Sugar Festival - Brookwood Farm, Blue Hills Reservation, Milton, 10am-4pm.  It’s sugarin’ 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 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.

March 16 - Maple Sugaring - Breakheart Reservation, Saugus, 10am-2pm. Learn about the history of maple sugarin’, 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 $5 admission will support the program, used directly for the equipment you will see in action ($20 per family). Takes place in and near the wheelchair accessible Christopher Dunne Visitor Center at 177 Forest Street. For more information please call (781) 233-0834.

March 17 - Pancake Breakfast - Breakheart Reservation, Saugus, 9am-12noon. 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.

March weekdays - Krug Sugarbush Tours - Chesterfield. Join the Park Staff at the Krug Sugarbush in the eastern Berkshires 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. This site is not wheelchair accessible.

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources is also offering a listing of sugarhouses where visitors can purchase maple products including maple syrup and maple candy and enjoy open houses and tours. A complete listing can be found by going to the MassGrown & Fresher website Google map and clicking on “maple”. You will need to contact sugar operations directly to find out about accessibility.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Kids and Kites on Ice!

Ice skating is a perennial favorite among winter activities that is growing in popularity as an adaptive recreation opportunity in Massachusetts state-owned rinks. Many rinks now house a couple of ice sleds for people with mobility impairments to use during public skating. The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) also offers adaptive ice skating programs, in which the entire ice is reserved for use by people with disabilities and their families and friends. Over the years this has become a popular "come-as-you-are" program, with skaters using wheelchairs, walkers, ice sleds and regular ice skates to enjoy time on the ice. Over and over we find that being on ice inspires play!

We offer a variety of game elements at DCR Universal Access skating programs when we have full use of the rink. Balls of all sizes and pucks can be knocked into nets. Foam blocks are built into crash towers and re-stacked again. Orange cones are placed in slalom patterns. Often there are impromptu hockey games. It is amazing to see how skating skills improve when a game is involved! The skater's attention goes outward, beyond the sense of awkwardness and inability, to focus on a ball or puck, enabling them to improve sometimes without realizing it.

A recent inspiration for our adaptive skating programs is the addition of kites, which add a whole new sense of color and movement. We've been experimenting with kites on ice as a program element and it is a lot of fun for skaters of all ages!

This activity is best with plenty of open space on the ice. Outdoors it won't work if trees are close by, otherwise the sky's the limit! At our indoor programs it works best when attendance is on the low side, and of course, the ceiling requires careful flying technique.

Our typical kite flight involves someone skating backwards with a kite, which generates enough breeze to give lift to lightweight kites. A good skater can avoid mishap while keeping the kite at an appropriate height by setting a string length with one hand holding the line winder and using the other hand to pull in or release a small amount of line as needed. Power wheelchair users can lift kites easily if they have reasonable traction, but may not be able to view the kite in the air themselves. Such flights serve as a colorful element for others to enjoy, both on and off the ice.

We found out last week that kids on skates can handle small kites pretty easily. They seem to appreciate the novelty of trying two different activities together. I noticed kids improving their agility and speed, learning to look backward and forward and monitor their movement in space.

Kids in sleds being pushed can expand their sense of space by watching kites, following them, and having a kite flown with them. I have found it quite easy to control the height and flight pattern of longer kites as well as simple ones, to avoid skaters and give selected participants a closer encounter.

So far we've had no kite flying collisions, entanglements, cut string or kites caught on the ceiling. Kite flights last just a few minutes usually. The visual display of a kite in flight seems to inspire the level of attention necessary for sighted people to avoid them. Precautions should be taken if anyone on the ice has a visual impairment.

If you are looking for some uplifting color in late winter and have access to ice, try flying kites!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Blue Hills Trailside Museum - Fully Accessible!

A vintage sign at the entrance to outdoor wildlife exhibits.

Looking for an inclusive and satisfying outing in the Boston area? The Blue Hills Trailside Museum is a great place to visit with family, friends or solo to connect with nature. I stopped in last week before the big snowstorm to check out the accessible outdoor trail through native wildlife exhibits. It was a real treat to connect with live animals there in the middle of winter!

Especially the river otter! On this crisp sunny day, she was busy swimming. I marveled at her swift and fluid grace in water and her awkward gait on land. She criss-crossed her pool repeatedly, flipping over backwards at the shore and swimming upside down back across, occasionally popping up and over floating tree trunk root systems. River otters are truly delightful animals, though you'll notice a strong fishy odor in their presence.

A female otter pauses while exercising in an outdoor pool.

Other animals you can visit outdoors at Blue Hills Trailside Museum are white-tailed deer, red-tailed hawks, a turkey vulture, great-horned owl and snowy owl. A pond alongside the museum is a haven for waterfowl and well-stocked bird feeders guarantee the presence of birds.

The routes to these exhibits are now more easily navigable by visitors with visual impairments thanks to Massachusetts Audubon's recent additions of a guide rope system with Braille and large print signage. An audio tour can be downloaded from their website year round and can also be accessed on site by cell phone or MP3 player. The audio tour is a great way for anyone to enhance their experience and learn more about the local wildlife. Though the area outside the museum is on a hillside, all the slopes meet accessibility standards and there are alternate routes to stairways. Kudos to Massachusetts Audubon for such a successful access improvement!

Wooden beads indicate stops along the guide rope trail.

Inside the museum, exhibits take you through the habitats of the Blue Hills, from lowlands to the summit. Carefully crafted and enchantingly displayed, information is easy to understand and presented in multidimensional ways. More live animals are inside, including a screech owl, kestrel, opossum, skunk, rare snakes and a beehive. Again, there is a guided system for those with visual impairments enhanced with audio sounds and tactile opportunities at nearly every turn that kids will love too.

Massachusetts Audubon offers an array of educational programs for all ages. Bird of prey presentations are a regular favorite. There is a fee for most programs I saw advertised, though some are free to members. Don't miss the annual Maple Sugar Festival coming up March 9-10!

For more information, visit

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ski and Para Triathlon Opportunities for Southern New Englanders

The Sports Association of the Gaylord Hospital in Connecticut has some great recreation opportunities coming up for those who live in southern New England. They are a Paralympic Sports Club and a chapter of Disabled Sports. Call 203-284-2772 for more info and to register for any of these programs.

On February 13th, there will be a free adaptive cross country skiing and snowshoeing program at Winding Trails in Farmington, Connecticut from 1-3pm.

There are three upcoming adaptive downhill ski trips! These trips are only $40! You must call at least 2 weeks in advance to register!

February 9 - Mt. Snow, Vermont
February 23 -  Mt. Bromley, Vermont
March 16 - Mt. Sunapee, New Hampshire

If you are a new or experienced hard core athlete, consider training to compete in a sprint Para Triathlon in September. The Sports Association is teaming up with the Greater Hartford YMCA and will be sponsoring several athletes and at least one relay team of three athletes. Paperwork must be submitted by March 1 so don't hesitate to call 203-284-2772 if you are interested.

Photos courtesy of the Sports Association.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sybil Feldman 1940-2012

Sybil and her PCA at the Adaptive Recreation Fair in
Boston in June 2011.
I was saddened to find out in the past week of Sybil Feldman's death last November. I knew her as someone who loved outdoor recreation and saw her regularly through the years at adaptive recreation programs and events. In her obituary and other public announcements, she is heralded as a disability activist with the nickname "Sybil Disobedience". Sybil was seventy-two years old when she died of pneumonia.

Sybil had cerebral palsy and spent over twenty years living at the Fernald School, an institution for people with disabilities that was unfortunately known for human rights abuses and poor quality of education. She fought her way out and came to live in her own apartment with the support of personal care attendants.

Sybil at far left in her wheelchair, with BCIL members.

Sybil was a steady presence at disability events in Boston for decades and also traveled to places as far away as Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Orlando to support the rights of people with disabilities. She was arrested six times in political actions that helped lay the foundation for national change and better programs and services. She also promoted disability rights to the Massachusetts state legislature, governor, attorney general and U.S. Congress by testifying in hearings and telling her story at public meetings.

As Bill Henning of the Boston Center for Independent Living said, "Her life after Fernald was a dramatic shout in the face of those who would isolate, demean, and deny people with disabilities."

And I say, thank you Sybil for your indomitable spirit, for your lifelong fight to improve the lives of people with disabilities and for taking the time to get out and play!

Thanks to Bill Henning, the Executive Director of the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL) for permission to share the information in his article "Passing of a Disability Rights Champion" in the Winter 2013 issue of Disability Issues, a publication of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network.