Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Importance of Accessible Nature Trails - and Where to Find Them in Massachusetts

Accessible trails allow for group as well as individual
and family exploration of parks.
This month I attended the Massachusetts Trails Conference in Leominster. The theme of the conference was “Trails For All”. I use many accessible trails in the course of my work as an adaptive recreation program coordinator and well know how they improve quality of life for people of all abilities. Many trail users, including trail building advocates, continue to discover the value of trails designed for everyone.
Dick O’Brien, Chairperson for the Massachusetts Recreational Trails Advisory Board, gave a wonderful opening speech sharing how he has discovered the importance of accessible trails. Many of the 250+ attendees had gray hair, so it is surely getting easier for the trail using community to grasp the issue as they age.  Nevertheless, by sharing his personal experiences, Dick spoke to our hearts. From his father’s need for a wheelchair changing his ability to access favorite places, to a conservation donor’s frustration at not being able to see her property to discuss improvements, and to his own recent health issues, Dick demonstrated the vital need for access to natural places. How do you get out there to enjoy the outdoors if your health and abilities have become compromised?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Fort River Birding and Nature Trail Opens in Hadley, MA

Andrew French (right side) of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service at trail opening with members of the local community.

The Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts has a brand new award-winning accessible trail! The official opening of occurred in late October and was well attended by people with disabilities, as well as members of the general public. The Fort River Birding and Nature Trail is the latest addition to the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge which spans four states with numerous properties along the Connecticut River watershed. 
The Fort River Birding and Nature Trail offers a 1.2 mile experience traversing 260 acres of grassland, wetlands, hardwood and floodplain forests off  Moody Bridge Road in Hadley, Massachusetts.  Designed as one loop, the trail is constructed of stone dust with wooden edging and eight elevated boardwalks.  Seven different viewing decks are spaced along the trail to allow seated enjoyment of various natural areas, group stops, and nature interpretation and study. This is the longest accessible trail in the region that I know of allowing for a quiet, off road outing for all to enjoy in nature.