Mount Grace Land Trust accessible trail opens

  • Sgt. Jeffrey S. Ames speaks at the opening of the Gunnery Sgt. Jeffrey S. Ames Trail in Northfield on June 2, along with other members of the Ames family. Contributed Photo

For the Recorder
Published: 6/8/2018 8:31:09 PM

NORTHFIELD — More than 125 local community members, some with walkers and wheelchairs, attended the recent opening of Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust’s first accessible trail.

The Gunnery Sgt. Jeffrey S. Ames Trail at the Alderbrook Meadows Sanctuary allows the mobility impaired to enjoy the outdoors.

“These people love nature, but can’t go out on a nature trail. It is really sad, and so (the accessible trail) provides access to nature for people who don’t have it because there aren’t those options available,” said Leigh Youngblood, executive director of Mount Grace.

The trail began as a conservation project to protect the Ames family’s 140-acre farm in Northfield. Mount Grace acquired from the state a Local Acquisitions for Natural Diversity grant, which requires the general public to have reasonable access to the land. Youngblood said the idea for an accessible trail came to fruition after speaking with the landowners, reviewing the land and inquiring about funding.

“The idea arose that on a small property like (this one) maybe an accessible trail would be perfect because there were really no opportunities for connecting to long-distance trails or doing anything more substantial,” she said.

Around five acres of the Ames’ farm was donated to Mount Grace for the project, while the trail spans a half-mile, said Youngblood. Benches made by Pioneer Valley Regional School students are spread out along the trail for people to enjoy.

Jay Rasku, Mount Grace’s land stewardship director, worked with naturalists, state geologists and four local indigenous tribal nations to create signs along the trail that educate visitors on the land’s cultural history. Including a kiosk that welcomes hikers at the front of the trail, there are eight signs, with two more planned, said Rasku.

“We wanted to include their perspective. This is the first time Mount Grace has done a collaboration with tribes from the region,” said Youngblood.

In order to keep the trail accessible and clear moving forward, Youngblood said Mount Grace plans to start a Friends of Alderbrook Meadows (FOAM) group. Though the land may be small, she said the accessible trail has already had an impact on the community.

“We have helped in our region conserve 32,000 acres — that is a big number compared to five acres … this is a small place, but there is a lot going on there and I think it is going to have a big impact on a lot of people,” said Youngblood.

Mount Grace plans to continue creating accessible trails and is working on a second one at the Eagle Reserve in Royalston, said Youngblood. Without the help of community members, Rasku said, the trails would not be possible. “These trails only happen because of volunteers, so we are looking for help,” he said.


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