Monday, June 8, 2020

Mutters Field - A Respite in Nature in the Pioneer Valley

If you are seek to get outside in the Pioneer Valley, there are several good wheelchair accessible opportunities to avoid crowds. Part of the trick is to go in the morning or later in the afternoon on weekdays.

Looking for a quiet wheelchair accessible spot in nature not far off the beaten track? Mutters Field in Easthampton offers a gentle third of a mile stroll around a field surrounded by trees, with a view of a narrow brook and a glimpse of Mt. Tom. Along the way you can learn about rain gardens, invasive species, monarch butterflies, bluebirds, and more by reading colorful interpretive signs. There are 6 benches with pullout space around the loop, 2 picnic tables, and a pavilion with benches as well. While you can hear occasional cars passing by on East Street, I discovered that this spot truly offers respite in nature. While there I saw a couple of people who were easy to see in advance and avoid or pass.

The trail at Mutters Field is built for accessibility at 5 feet wide. Because it is a stone dust path between containing boards that are elevated on cross beams under or alongside the trail, it is a step down to get off the trail (see picture). This means that passing other users on the trail would require ambulatory people to step down a few inches off the trail to ensure social distancing while passing wheelchair users. I'm guessing that this might require some communication as not all walkers will anticipate this possibility.

An acquaintance of mine who uses a wheelchair recently visited Mutters Field and his assistants commented on how nice it is there!

Some things I really liked about this trail:

  • Freshly black-topped parking lot (still awaiting re-striping of spaces) with at least 1 designated van accessible spot
  • Great example of the type of trail signage at the entrance that can be most useful for new trail users 
  • The grass is trimmed alongside the trail boards about 2 feet into the field, which helps with tick management. Otherwise, the hayfield is in its natural state - beautiful in June!
  • Milkweed plants are left uncut at the trail edge which allows for some wonderful opportunities to observe the plants and the insects visiting them through the summer season. 
  • Bird boxes are set up for bluebirds and tree swallows, although I did not happen to see any activity around them.
  • Lovely large oaks along the north edge of the field near the brook overlook.

A few cautions about the trail:

The maximum slope of 7% advertised on the trail info signage underestimates the length of the first grade downward on the trail from the parking lot. It should probably read <100' as the downhill is 88' to the curve at the bottom. This is the steepest grade of the trail. There is a bench about halfway along the hill for the return journey up if you need to take a break. If you are self-propelling in a manual wheelchair, you may find that you have to partially block the trail to rest as there is not enough space alongside the bench to pull off trail completely.

I noticed a spot or two near the side trail to the brook overlook that had poison ivy along the edge of the trail. 

The brook overlook is a steep edge with just a short cable section to separate viewers from the descent. Use extra caution with small children and others who may be impulsive.

Mutters Field is owned and managed by the Pascommuck Conservation Trust and was partially funded with a Recreation Trails Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. 

If you go, Mutters Field is located across from 416 East Street. It is not obviously marked and easy to pass by on this residental road. The sign in the parking lot does not stand out from the road, especially in the afternoon with the sun behind it. This makes it less obvious to people who don't know about the trail, and also slightly more of a challenge to pinpoint from the road. Having the address with you should help and the fresh blacktop will be a good landmark.

In addition to following safe practices outlined by the CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health, please be sure to follow these additional DCR guidelines for safe park visiting:

  • Minimize outdoor recreational time to limit potential exposure to COVID-19;
  • Stay within solitary or small groups, and avoid gatherings of ten or more people;
  • Practice social distancing of at least six feet between individuals;
  • Administer healthy personal hygiene, such as handwashing for at least 20 seconds;
  • Participate in only non-contact recreational activities;
  • Leave a park or area should large gatherings begin to build; and,
  • Stay home if ill, over 70, and/or part of a vulnerable population. 

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