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Accessible Recreation opportunities in Massachusets State Forests and Parks


By Marcy Marchello, Access Specialist
Universal Access Program, Mass. DEM

If you live in Massachusetts or plan to travel there this year, you will be happy to know that many diverse recreation opportunities are available to visitors of all abilities. Most are inexpensive or free of charge!

Massachusetts boasts over 100 state forests and parks. As the 6th smallest state in the U.S., it has the 9th largest state park system, operated by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management (DEM). Opportunities abound to explore and enjoy ocean beaches, urban heritage parks, bicycle paths, rivers, historical sites, waterfalls, mountaintops, and more. Park interpreters provide educational tours about the natural and cultural history of the state where the pilgrims first landed. And DEM's Universal Access Program has one of the most progressive agendas for initiating accessibility at a state park level that I've come across.

The DEM's Universal Access Program is dedicated to making sure that accessibility for people with disabilities is a priority in the Massachusetts state park system. I can vouch for this personally, as I have been working for the Universal Access Program for 4 years now. As a program coordinator, I have delivered beach wheelchairs to numerous inland and ocean beaches, taught people how to cross country sitski and use handcycles, helped create adaptive rowing and paddling programs, taught park staff how to use integrative techniques in their tours and programs, recorded information and tours for blind visitors, and facilitated several outdoor events. Virtually every recreation activity that people come to state parks to do can be enjoyed by everyone--all abilities welcome!

For summer water-based activities, join us at the beach or pool or on the water. Visit Horseneck Beach State Reservation in Westport near Cape Cod, Salisbury Beach State Reservation north of Boston, or any one of 20 other beaches around the state where we provide beach wheelchairs. All of DEM's 20 state pools feature pool lifts that can be independently operated. If you enjoy gliding on the water, our adaptive rowing program is a great way to exercise and explore two of New England's well-known rivers, the Merrimac and the Connecticut. DEM's adaptive paddling program enables beginning or experienced paddlers to enjoy various ponds, lakes, and rivers by flatwater kayak or canoe at no charge.

If you're looking for a beautiful place to spend the day outdoors on land, I recommend several parks where most, if not all activities are now universally accessible. In the Berkshires, drive to the top of Mt. Greylock, Massachusetts' highest peak at over 3,000 feet or enjoy a stroll through the forest at Pittsfield State Forest's Tranquility Trail. The DAR State Forest offers accessible camping, swimming, fishing, trails, adaptive kayaking, nature programs, and an accessible wetland viewing blind. Dunn Park, in centrally located Gardner, is a favorite day-use site offering picnicking, swimming, a woodland trail, fishing pier, and a hand cranked paddleboat. Rent handcycles and ride the Norwottuck Rail Trail near Northampton. You can also bicycle the Cape Cod Rail Trail in one of America's favorite vacation spots. Closer to Boston, stroll the waterfront in Lynn and learn about the city's shoemaking industry or enjoy 3 miles of carriage trails at Borderland State Park in Sharon.

Now there is really no excuse to stay indoors all winter! An accessible cross-country ski program provides equipment, support, instruction, and the opportunity to explore snowy woods and frozen bodies of water in western Massachusetts. Your family and friends can sit or stand ski along with you, learning assistive techniques that will enable you to return and use the equipment again if you so desire. Even ice skating has become an accessible activity, indoors at DEM owned and privately managed skating rinks where a nominal rental fee is charged, and outdoors at selected parks as conditions permit. Skating is accomplished by using a seated ice skate, known as an ice sled or sledge. Skaters use shortened hockey sticks with picks on the end to propel themselves forward and chase pucks across the ice. Outdoors they also stop to converse with ice fisherman.

One of the best things about state parks is the inexpensive opportunities they provide for families to recreate together. DEM's Universal Access Program enables families who have one or more members with disabilities to be able to have a good time together. In my four years at DEM, I have witnessed more than one family that was able to have such an experience for the very first time-- needless to say a thrill for all involved. Some of my fondest memories of families enjoying the outdoors together now include a paraplegic father on an ice sled towing his able-bodied children on ice sleds behind him on a sunny winter's day, and a family of four and their service dog all aboard a hand cranked paddle boat being paddled by the kids. Such opportunities are not to be missed and rarely forgotten!

The DEM's Universal Access Program also hosts accessible recreation events. These are typically a free-of-charge open-house style occasion, in which individuals, families, and groups spend a day at a selected park enjoying a variety of activities. Summer events include kayaking, canoeing, rowing, nature walks, and handcycling. Winter events include sitsking and ice skating. Our annual Accessible Rail Trail Event brings together adapted bicycles and wheeled equipment of all kinds for people to try. These events are usually attended by a small group of vendors who provide additional demonstration equipment that is not included in the Universal Access Programs' inventory, and expertise and products that enrich everyone's experience.

More interested in Massachusetts State Parks now? Please contact us! Call or write for a Universal Access Brochure and other state park information to aid in your planning. We welcome questions and feedback about any park or facility as well. Information is available in Braille, large print, and on audiocassette.

Contact: Universal Access Program, Mass. DEM
PO Box 484, Amherst, MA 01004
(413) 545-5758
Web site at

From OPEN WORLD, Vol. 3, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 1999.
Copyright 1999. All rights reserved.