On Trail: Habitat Creates Path to Accessibility

Alex Nolin has been a big “birder” –  those whose hobby is bird observation – since middle school.

“I’ve liked birds ever since I was a kid watching a lot of nature films,” said Nolin.

But for a person who travels exclusively in a motorized wheelchair, the woods and meadows Nolin would like to travel to make his observations is fairly limited. That included Belmont’s own Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary off Juniper Road on the top of Belmont Hill.

The routes through the Habitat were tough ones to maneuver over with large roots, very narrow sections, stones and no way to get very close to areas such as wetlands.

“It was very hard to transverse. I had to go off the trails. It was pretty bad since I don’t have a very high clearance with my wheelchair,” he said.

That was before Sunday when Nolin, who returned for the first time in about 10 years, used the newly-installed accessible trail constructed this spring.

On that day, the 22-year-old Belmont resident easily traveled to Habitat’s Turtle Pond where, sitting on a platform overlooking the water, he spotted a Kingfisher, a small-sized brightly coloured bird, one of the birds that he has wanted to spot for a long time.

“It’s now off my life list,” said Nolin.

Roger Wrubel, director at Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary, said contributions and a $41,000 state grant raised the $108,000 over two years to paid for the trail’s construction. Trail builder Peter Jenson designed and built the half-mile long loop that transverses the sanctuary’s meadow and the Turtle Pond.

The trail is compacted half-inch and smaller rock with a boardwalk near the wet lands and an observation deck at the pond, which is the most popular spot in the Habitat, said Wrubel.

“It’s smooth with a nice grade without steep inclines or descents,” said Wrubel, who said it is now a different experience for those who like the more “wild” trails.

The trail – which takes walkers and riders through the sanctuary’s different ecological areas – also has spurs allowing a variety of traveling options.

Making the trail wheel-chair accessible to American with Disability Act code is also advantageous for seniors who may not be as agile and parents who are pushing a stroller.

“This trail is now navigable for people who have trouble with the narrow bumpy trails,” said Wrubel.

Students from Lexington’s Cotting School, which accommodates pupils with mild to severe learning disabilities, and the Belmont Senior Center have been invited to use the trail for a “test run,” said Wrubel.

“[The Cotting School students] couldn’t wait to get onto the next stop. It’s a real blessing,” said Chadine Ford, one of Habitat’s walk leaders and teachers.

“It’s gotten good reviews,” said Wrubel, including one from Nolin.

“I really appreciated it. [The trail] was very smooth and much wider. It’s now appropriate for my wheelchair,” said Nolin.

“Now I can come visit more often as I live so close by and enjoy it,” he said.


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