Grassroots movement in Maine seeks to make hiking trails more accessible to all
All over Maine, communities, land trusts, and parks are working to make their trails and outdoors programming more inclusive for people with disabilities. It's part of the growing national movement called "Outdoors for All." From building boardwalks to improving signs, outdoor organizations across the state are doing what they can to make open spaces more accessible and welcoming.
Jennifer Rooks, Maine Public: In Yarmouth, Maine, just a little north of Portland, volunteers are nearly finished building the 11-mile multiuse West Side Trail.
The final mile, this section, will be accessible to those with disabilities.
Owen Seehagen, Volunteer: The boards are my favorite part, carrying them.
Jennifer Rooks: Owen Seehagen and his sister, Olivia, are first-time volunteers here with their grandfather.
Olivia Seehagen, Volunteer: We're building a bridge for the people that have a wheelchair or need help walking.
Person: This one, I tried chamfering. I want to see how that works out.
Jennifer Rooks: Engineering and design details matter. There can be no wide gaps between the boards, and the team has chosen cedar that is rough sawn, because it's less slippery than pressure-treated lumber.
On the graveled sections of the path, the grades and turns are gentle. The new section of the West Side Trail is one of a handful of new trail projects around the state designed to be universally accessible. They're part of a growing national movement known as outdoors for all.
But one of the biggest proponents of that movement here in Maine isn't waiting for special new trails to be built. He's out there now.
Meet Enock Glidden. Born with spina bifida, Glidden goes everywhere in a wheelchair. For a year now, he's been traveling all over Maine, testing trails for the app Maine Trail Finder. Today, it's the Knights Pond Preserve in Cumberland, Maine.
Enock Glidden, Adventurer: When I'm doing these trails, I'm taking note in my head of different obstacles. Like, there's a hill behind us, or rocks coming up the hill, or grooves in the road or roots. That's a big thing. There's lots of routes, usually because of trees.
And so I think know of all those things in my mind, and I take pictures, and I take video.
Jennifer Rooks: When he gets home, he posts his picture and writes a blog. He liked this trail, and rated most of it accessible or — quote — "wheelie easy."
His message? It might not take much to make your trails significantly more accessible.
Enock Glidden: If people would just look at the trails they already have, the easy ones, and look at it from a perspective of, if I was in a chair right now, would any of this stop me from continuing?
If they do find something that would stop them, how can we fix it? And then just fix that, and fix the next thing and the next thing. And then, pretty soon, you have an accessible trail.
Zachary Stegeman, Community Outreach Director, Adaptive Outdoor Education Center: The origin story of the organization is amazing.
Jennifer Rooks: Zach Stegeman of the Adaptive Outdoor Education Center says outdoors for all means all ages and all abilities.
Zachary Stegeman: I think we are approaching a tipping point, approaching a movement.
Jennifer Rooks: How far do we have to go?
Zachary Stegeman: As far as the trail goes? We have got — we have got a long ways to go. It doesn't have to be every trail. But it sure would be great if we looked at just about every venue with trails having one that is accessible, where someone with a physical challenge navigating some uneven terrain, or perhaps a traumatic brain injury and some balance issues, could be visually impaired, whatever the challenge is, that they can still get outside, access that beautiful space.
It doesn't have to be the summit. It can just be somewhere along the way.
Jennifer Rooks: Meantime, the volunteers in West Yarmouth will keep showing up.
Peter Johnson, Volunteer: It's incredibly good work. And it will result in a very good product used by hundreds and hundreds of people for decades. So what's not to like?
Jennifer Rooks: And Enock Glidden will keep trying new trails, inspired by the people he's helping.
Enock Glidden: A lady walked up to me and said, "Aren't you Enock Glidden?"
And I said: "Yes.
And she said: "I love your blogs. You have pointed out so many places that me and my mother can go together."
And so that's really why I do that.
Brian Bechard was the videographer and editor for this story.