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A hiking path for all

Fully accessible trail under way

  • Special to The Recorder/Ayrika Whitney<br/>Scott Dwyer and Emily Geser work on an accessible trail in Hadley as part of a team of Americorps and Youth Conservation Corps members.

    Special to The Recorder/Ayrika Whitney
    Scott Dwyer and Emily Geser work on an accessible trail in Hadley as part of a team of Americorps and Youth Conservation Corps members.

  • Special to The Recorder/Ayrika Whitney<br/>Brent Holiday and Emily Geser spread gravel on an accessible trail being built on the Silvio O. Conte Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Hadley. The trail will be 1.2 miles long and 5 feet wide, and accessible to people using wheelchairs and those who are blind.

    Special to The Recorder/Ayrika Whitney
    Brent Holiday and Emily Geser spread gravel on an accessible trail being built on the Silvio O. Conte Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Hadley. The trail will be 1.2 miles long and 5 feet wide, and accessible to people using wheelchairs and those who are blind.

  • Special to The Recorder/Ayrika Whitney<br/>Rose Ruel and Henry Kahan shovel gravel for a new 1.2 mile, accessible trail being constructed on the Silvio O. Conte Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Hadley.

    Special to The Recorder/Ayrika Whitney
    Rose Ruel and Henry Kahan shovel gravel for a new 1.2 mile, accessible trail being constructed on the Silvio O. Conte Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Hadley.

  • Special to The Recorder/Ayrika Whitney<br/>Scott Dwyer and Emily Geser work on an accessible trail in Hadley as part of a team of Americorps and Youth Conservation Corps members.
  • Special to The Recorder/Ayrika Whitney<br/>Brent Holiday and Emily Geser spread gravel on an accessible trail being built on the Silvio O. Conte Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Hadley. The trail will be 1.2 miles long and 5 feet wide, and accessible to people using wheelchairs and those who are blind.
  • Special to The Recorder/Ayrika Whitney<br/>Rose Ruel and Henry Kahan shovel gravel for a new 1.2 mile, accessible trail being constructed on the Silvio O. Conte Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Hadley.

HADLEY — Thirteen local youth have chosen to forgo a summer job with air conditioning and are instead braving the heat and fighting off mosquitoes to assemble a universally accessible hiking trail along the Fort River.

“It’s really inspiring to see these kids give up a summer to do manual labor outdoors. That’s saying a lot for them,” said Heather Furman, 27, an AmeriCorps member who has worked alongside the 13 Youth Conservation Corps members constructing the trail.

The pathway was envisioned years ago by Andrew French, the project leader who manages the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses 35,000 acres in the Connecticut River watershed across the states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Now, it’s close to half done.

The 5-foot-wide trail will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, allowing for two wheelchairs to pass each other, and consist of gravel and fine rock enclosed in borders of pressure-treated lumber, called “trail ties.” The trail ties will form a 2-inch lip around the trail, making it navigable by cane for the visually impaired.

The same construction method was used for the Rachel Carson Refuge trail in Maine, a project that French saw to completion in 1988. He said he and his wife, Corrine, who live in Belchertown, walk the Rachel Carson trail every few years, and most recently walked it this summer.

For French, who spent eight months in a wheelchair following a motorcycle accident in college, these accessiblity projects are near and dear to his heart. He said he sees a need where others might not.

“There’s lots of trails around,” he said. “Not many of them are wheelchair-accessible.”

At the trail entrance off Moody Bridge Road last week, Furman and Youth Conservation Corps member Miguel Reda, 18, of Amherst laid down the wooden trail ties, then drilled the sideboards in. Reda, in his third year in the Youth Conservation Corps, said he worked on the project when it was still in its very early stages, and is excited to see it through to completion. In the fall, he will attend the University of Vermont to study forestry.

The crew members for the project are 13 members of the Youth Conservation Corps, a government-funded summer program that gives young people paid opportunities to help conserve public lands, and five members of AmeriCorps, a federal community service program for young adults that is sometimes referred to as a domestic Peace Corps.

Finished job

The trail will be approximately 1.2 miles long when finished, passing through vegetation, fields, floodplain and wetlands along the Fort River, a tributary of the Connecticut that flows through Amherst and Hadley.

“Even if it’s just a 1-mile trail, it’s pretty cool to know you’re part of this whole huge system,” Furman said.

She said that it is a goal of hers to make sure everyone has the opportunity to spend time in nature.

“I know that growing up, I didn’t realize this, that not everybody grows up spending time playing outside and going skiing and going hiking and things like that, that I did with my family,” said Furman, who grew up in Schenectady, N.Y. “I kind of took that for granted.”

There will be several benches along the trail, and French said the path will be good for bird watching. What hikers see, he said, will depend on how quiet they are.

“The best thing to do is be quiet,” French said, adding that the best time to go down is early in the morning. “The more noise you make, the less you’re probably going to see and hear.”

Hard work

Farther up the trail, other members of AmeriCorps and the Youth Conservation Corps filled the trail with gravel. Youth Conservation Corps member Bailey Fosterweber, 16, of Amherst, and Wes Isaacson, 20, a member of AmeriCorps, shoveled gravel from a large pile into a wheelbarrow. Andrew French’s son, Daniel French, 21, a Youth Conservation Corps crew leader, shuttled the wheelbarrow back and forth between the pile and a section of the trail around the corner, where other youth workers distributed the gravel and packed it down. Once the gravel is down, a layer of fine rock will be put down on top.

Fosterweber, a student at Amherst Regional High School, said he would like to have a career in the law enforcement wing of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Andrew French said he relies on youth groups and community members to build the trail so that local people will feel a deeper connection to it once it’s done. Having been a member of the Youth Conservation Corps in 1975, he has remained involved in the organization in some capacity ever since.

“It’s a great way for us to connect with people,” he said. “They’ll have a sense of ownership over the trail.” And, he added lightheartedly, “There’s nothing like toiling over a big pile of gravel.”

Trail coordinator Gabe Siegel, 23, of Amherst, who supervises and offers guidance to the youth workers, said it’s challenging to make sure the work gets done safely and efficiently.

He noted that many of the group members have limited experience with some of the tools they’re using, creating a learning curve. But speed, he said, always takes a backseat to safety and quality.

“Every day I hope to get 80 percent of our agenda done. If we get 100 percent, that’s great. If we get 110, that’s better,” Siegel said.

French said he is not sure when the trail will be open to the public, but that it depends on how many volunteers he can gather to help with the construction.

“I think it’s a real good way to develop a relationship with our public land,” he said.

Siegel, who has been working on the trail since the middle of April, is optimistic.

“The end is in sight,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be this year, but it’s around the corner.”

For volunteer opportunities, French can be contacted via e-mail at andrew_french@fws.gov.

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