This is a guest post written by Enock Glidden, MTF Accessibility Ambassador, Public Speaker, Adaptive Athlete, and Adventurer. To learn more about Enock, please visit his website.
This year I hope to get some group or one on one hikes together. I would love to interview other people with disabilities about their outdoor experiences. The more perspectives we can get the better the information will be and the more progress we can make.
Hey fellow hikers! This time I checked out a couple of places in the Portland area, including Evergreen Cemetery and Hinckley Park. I am going to call this day a day of obstacles as you will see. This might be a long one, I have a lot to tell you about.
My first stop for the day was Evergreen Cemetery. During my planning, I saw that a number of trails started near some ponds. I decided that would be a good place to start my day. If I didn't get anywhere at least I could check out the beautiful ponds and scope for wildlife. There was abundant wildlife in and around the ponds. I saw all kinds of ducks and other birds, There were also turtles (or so I was told since I didn't actually see them.)
The parking lot is small but flat and easy to get around. It is dirt. There aren't any actual accessible spaces so I just parked next to the trail opening in hopes that no one would park beside me.
Pro tip: Before heading off, I took a picture of the map that was beside the trailhead. This way I can refer to it anytime I want and I don't have to keep track of a brochure. This sign didn't have a great map on it but later on I found a great one.
I first headed off in the direction of the ponds on the Forest City Trail. It looked really good in the beginning. It was very accessible. The trail starts out nice and wide, flat, and firm. After I stopped admiring the beautiful scenery and made it past the ponds, the trail makes its way into the woods.
There are three concrete or stone posts with plenty of room to pass between them. The trail is still flat and firm with no obstacles in sight. It's quite impressive how good it is at this point. I started finding a few roots here and there but nothing that blocked the entire trail or made it impassable.
The trail narrows at one point and gets a bit more jungle-like. The surface is still very good and easily traversed.
It's not long after this section that I spotted my first major obstacle of the day -- a long steep hill that is rocky and has a major cross slope. There was no way I was going to attempt that one by myself.
I had made it maybe a quarter to a half mile before this hill made me turn around. Back to the trailhead I went but not before stopping to check out all the ducks at the pond. They are not afraid of people at all.
Once at the trailhead I studied my options on the map at Maine Trail Finder and realized the Evergreen Loop started across the road. This is the trail that piqued my interest when I was doing my research. It had a boardwalk to start which seemed like a promising sign.
Speaking of signs, there is an excellent map to take a picture of as well.
Armed with my map I set off on the Evergreen Loop to see where I could go. The trails are also blazed with corresponding colors to the super helpful map. I have been to places where the colors didn't match and it was very confusing.
This was another misleading start. The trail looked amazing. It was nice and wide, mostly flat, and the surface was very easy to roll over.
Then I spotted my next insurmountable obstacle. I honestly stared at this one for a bit trying to figure out if I could find a way around it. In the end, I decided I better turn around to avoid injury. The steepness of the terrain combined with basically a pile of rocks made it too difficult to pass without crawling.
Back to the parking lot I went. Once at the parking lot I looked up the road and saw a gate. I figured since I was there I should at least investigate the gate. There was a sign on it that said something about entry to this site after sunset was against the law. I had plenty of time before sunset. I went under the gate to check things out. Notice I said I went under the gate. This perfectly accessible flat smooth firm road had a gate across it with a barrier in the bypass space. A giant rock perfectly placed between the poles. I just can't imagine what purpose it would serve and it seems like an easy enough barrier to remove. Hopefully, that will happen in the future.
Luckily I am short enough in my chair to pass under the gate. What I found beyond the gate was the highlight of my time at Evergreen Cemetery. The road is super wide, flat, and has a great surface of very finely crushed rock for most of the way. About a quarter of a mile up the road it turns to a bigger-sized crushed rock which made it harder to roll but not super difficult. It also is gradually uphill which adds to the difficulty.
I came to a wide-open area near the river that had amazing views minus the power lines. The trail continues going uphill to an intersection. I chose to turn left because it looked as though the trail had been resurfaced with accessible materials. This was an amazing surprise. I even found two boardwalks. The boards looked a bit too far apart for accessibility standards, but it was too close to call.
There is one pretty major obstacle but I am sure they will take care of it soon -- a huge tree resting across the trail.
The trail isn’t perfectly accessible as there aren't any resting spots, but it is very good. Besides the absent resting places, this trail is definitely wheelchair accessible. I am so glad I kept trying in every direction or I would have missed out. So in summary, if you drive all the way to the back of the cemetery to the ponds parking lot, just hike up the road beyond the gate for an accessible experience.
I chose to check out Hinckley Park based on the description at Maine Trail Finder:
Trails at Hinckley park can be combined to provide a number of loop and short hike options around a set of ponds fed by Kimball Brook. Trails loop along the shoreline, through wooded stretches, and along fields. Several bridges and benches provide scenic overlooks of the ponds and brooks, and at the outlet of each pond there are mini falls.
The terrain varies from uneven, climbing paths to flat, gentle walks with elevation at its lowest near the main parking area and trailhead off Highland Avenue and increasing towards Stillman Street. Following the outermost trails around the park creates an approximately three-quarter-mile loop with several side trails connecting to nearby neighborhoods.
The trail starts from a paved parking lot with accessible parking. I chose to start at the left trailhead which starts with a small patch of pavement in the dirt.
The surface of this trail is very smooth hard packed dirt. Not far after the start, there is a gate with ample room to pass to the right.
It doesn't take long to get to the first overlook of a beautiful pond. There are a couple of resting benches and stairs leading down to the water's edge. I only got a picture of one bench as people were using the other one.
The trail continues around the pond. I came to a section of significant rocks sticking out of the ground. This could trip people up and makes it hard for a wheeled device to pass. I was able to make my way through with some effort.
Right after the rocks I ran into my first major obstacle in the park. All of the obstacles in this park are human-made. This one is a bridge that for some reason was not made at grade level. There is about a 6-inch step up onto it. There was no way I was doing it sitting in my chair. I got out and sat on the step. I then just pulled my chair up onto the bridge got back in and jumped off the other side to continue.
After that little hiccup, the trail became just as nice as it was at the beginning. It was really wide with very few natural obstacles. There was an occasional root . The trail goes uphill for a bit before coming to a fork in the trail. I could continue in the same direction or go left. I decided to go left and I found my second obstacle in the park, a giant block of concrete.
I returned to the main trail I continued for a few feet. When what do I spy with my little eye but a set of steps!
Since there was no point in turning around now, it was time to go beast mode and crawl and drag. I set my backpack on the top step to get rid of the weight, I climbed to the top step reached down, and began pulling my chair up the steps.
I proceeded to push my chair with one hand while dragging my bag with the other all while dragging myself across the bridge. If you look at the actual bridge platform it would make a great boardwalk without the steps. I think they built it this way to avoid flooding from the pond as there is a spillway underneath. I wonder if it could be lowered and ramped at both ends.
Thankfully that was the last obstacle of the day and the rest of the trail was awesome.
I made my way back around the pond where I came to another decision spot. There are two trails side-by-side with a railing in the middle. After studying the terrain it looked best to go to the opposite side of the railing.
There was one more minor obstacle that didn't turn out to be an obstacle for me. There are two concrete posts on the trail but there is plenty of room to pass through.
The end of the trail comes out on the other side of the parking lot from where I started.
In summary, this could be an accessible trail but it is not. I have to rate this one Wheelie Strenuous. The obstacles would be very difficult for most people with disabilities. They could be remedied with ramps. I hope that happens in the future because this is a beautiful place that I would visit again.
If you visit, I would start on the trail to the left and plan an out-and-back with a turnaround before the bridges. You will still get to see much of the nicest scenery. You could also start on the right and get to the second pond and then turn around.
If you have a different type of mobility issue or a different disability and you visit this trail or others, please comment on this post and give us your feedback. The more knowledge we gather and share, the more people we can get outside using the trails of Maine!
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