Vol. 20 No. 2
State Forests and Parks Open the Outdoors
by Marcy Marchello, DEM
If you live in Massachusetts or plan to travel here this year, you will be happy to know that many diverse recreation opportunities are available to visitors of all abilities - most of which are inexpensive or free of charge!
Massachusetts boasts over 100 state forests and parks. As the 6th smallest state in the United States, 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, often in accessible areas and with the use of assisted listening devices for those who need enhanced hearing.
Accessible features like this are one of many ways that DEM's Universal Access Program has become one of the most progressive state park systems for initiating program and recreation accessibility.
The DEM's Universal Access Program, with 5 fulltime staff and several seasonal staff, is dedicated to making sure that accessibility for people with disabilities is a priority in the Massachusetts state park system. As a program coordinator for the Universal Access Program in the last 5 years, 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 many outdoor events. Nearly 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 which can be independently operated.
On the Water
Gliding on the water by boat is an exceptional way to access the natural landscape. Our adaptive rowing program provides exercise and the opportunity to get on 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. Kayak programs are based at Hopkinton State Park outside of Boston, and DAR State Forest in Goshen. Canoeing is based at Wells State Park in Sturbridge. The paddling program also travels during the summer months to appear in various parks around the Commonwealth for day programs in diverse settings.
Programs are run by experienced outdoor leaders trained in making adaptations for people with disabilities and assisted by lifeguards and volunteer staff.
On the Land
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's 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 handcycle on 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, chase pucks across the ice, and converse with icefisherman.
Bring the Family
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 share good times together. In my 5 years at DEM, I have witnessed more than one family that was able to recreate together for the very first time - needless to say a thrilling experience for all involved.
Two of my fondest memories of families enjoying the outdoors are 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 and sometimes snowmobiling and ice fishing.
Our annual Accessible Rail Trail Event in May 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 Program's regular inventory, along with 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, newsletter/calendar, and other state park information to aid in your planning. We welcome questions and feedback about any park or facility as well.
Visit our website at
Marcy Marchello is a statewide program coordinator for the Massachusetts
Department of Environmental Management's Universal Access Program.