Thursday, June 18, 2020

Stroll Through Former Estate Grounds in Leominster

This week I ventured to Leominster to investigate wheelchair accessible trails in north central Massachusetts on a Trustees of Reservations property. The trails were easy to locate off Route 2. I was happy to discover 1.5 miles of accessible trail at the Doyle Community Park and Center are in good condition with much to enjoy along the way.

The Doyle Community Park and Center offers two wheelchair accessible loops through forest, meadows and parklands of former estate property. The Doyle Estate trail is .8 mile and the Pierce Meadow trail is .4 mile. There is a  quarter mile connector trail between them that passes through the main visitor parking lot. Both trails are 6 feet wide - sometimes wider - with hard packed stone dust for easy travel. The park offers several interesting highlights, as well as places to picnic and sit along the trails. The visitor center and restrooms are not currently open, so be aware there are no restrooms available.
When I arrived at 11am, there were several car loads of families with young kids leaving the mostly empty 40 car parking lot at 464 Abbott Ave. Other people were walking with dogs on leash or with 1-2 other people. Many adults I saw until I left at 3pm were wearing face coverings. It was easy to maintain social distance on the trails - in fact most of the time I was completely on my own on a sunny day. I found it interesting that there was no designated accessible parking in the visitor parking lot. If you have a placard, definitely use one of the two accessible parking spots located at the visitor center. From there you can hop right onto the Doyle Estate Trail with ease, without intermingling with people and cars in the visitor lot.

There are several kiosks featuring the trail map around the park, but no brochure maps available on site. To see the trail map in advance, click here.

For the Doyle Estate trail, you will use a crosswalk to cross over Abbott Ave.  The trail proceeds gently uphill and circles the former estate residence, which is a beautiful property currently in use - heed signs and stay on the trail, which will also keep you safe from ticks and poison ivy. You'll find views of an expansive hayfield, a boardwalk along a pond with willow trees, and an observation deck overlooking the pond (unfortunately not currently accessible due to an eroded threshold onto the deck).

Further along you'll come to a large white stone atop a small knoll with stone benches and an adjacent thick patch of milkweed. My timing was perfect for the start of the milkweed flowers but I did not see any monarch butterflies. I also found an unusual variation on mountain laurel in bloom near the estate. Like many former estates, this one offers lesser known ornamental trees and shrubs established long ago which are fortunately well-maintained here.

The connector trail is forested and the Pierce Meadow Trail is an open parkland with large trees scattered over an open field. Mown trails through the high grass invite further exploration for young families and curious souls. If you stay on the trail you will eventually come into view of the Boys and Girls Club. Opposite the Club, I found a beautiful old tulip tree here in full bloom - a magnificent sight. An huge beech tree beyond it invites you to step off the trail to check out these old trees on the flat mown grass. There is even an accessible picnic table underneath - a truly delightful spot!

After this point the trail brings you to a small parking lot which can be used to park just for the Pierce Meadow Trail with about 5 car spots (I did not notice designated accessible spots though it is indicated on the trail map) and after that a shaded picnic grove among pines with 4 accessible picnic tables. If you want to go directly to this spot, it is on Palm Street off Lindell Ave. There is no sign for Palm Street but it is to the left of the Boys and Girls Club with curving stone pillars on either side.

Another bonus at this location is a community garden. A sign invites you in and I found the gate closed but unlatched for an easy push through. Passages between the well-tended beds were wide enough for most wheelchairs. If need be, you can continue back to the main lot and visitor center via the connector trail from this point.

An item of note regarding accessibility: there is some minor wear of the trail at both ends of the bridge at the main visitor parking lot, as well as at one end of the boardwalk so the transition is not flush. In two cases the tiny step on or off the bridge is one inch, but on one side of the bridge by the parking lot it is a 2" height.

The Doyle Community Park and Center has clear signage up advising social distancing practices. If you plan to go, please protect yourself and others. 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. 
Accessible trails at Doyle Community Park and Center were created with partial funding from the Recreation Trails Grant Program administered by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

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