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!!

The new bridge awaits nature lovers.

I've always been struck by this particular spot - how wild it feels so close the the greater Springfield area. It is frequented by school groups as well as programs led by DCR park interpreters. I happened to be out on the trail last fall when construction was going on and was invited to comment on how to make the area more open for observation without infringing too much on the actual area. The path does this well and groups can congregate along the 60 foot span of the largest bridge with minimal impact.

Mount.Tom State Reservation is owned and maintained by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). DCR's Universal Access Program visits Mount Tom several times a year with adaptive hiking and winter recreation programs. There are 2 accessible fishing docks on Lake Bray with picnic areas and accessible restrooms nearby. The rest of the park offers 22 miles of forested hiking trails, scenic roadside views of the Pioneer Valley, a group pavilion, and an enchanting nature center in a small stone building. Mount Tom is a premier hawk watching area during migration.

View from the bridge into the wetland behind Lake Bray.
 Other recent improvements at Mount Tom include resurfacing of the roads through the park and a new 4800 square foot play area with equipment designed to blend naturally into the environment. Definitely time to re-explore this favored locale!

The park is open until 8pm until Labor Day. There is a $2 parking fee, waived for those who have handicapped plates or placards. Between Labor Day and Memorial Day, the parking fee is waived for all park users.

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