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.
With the impending arrival of tropical storm Henri, Sandy and I decided to head to the coast. I know it sounds like a bad idea to go to the one area that will get hit the hardest, but we thought it may mean there would be fewer people. We were right.
I had been looking on Maine Trail Finder for a property to check out on the coast. I decided from the available pictures that Robinson Woods Preserve would be a good choice. [Ed. note: More photos and additional descriptions have since been added to the Robinson Woods trail page.]
We arrived at the preserve and found a small but well-made parking lot at the trailhead.
After looking around for a map and not finding one, we headed off in what seemed like the most obvious direction - onto the trail directly off the parking lot. It quickly became obvious that the pictures online were not very indicative of the terrain of this trail. I encountered a very rocky and root infested area just a few feet from the trailhead. I started thinking this trail might be a bad idea. We drove almost 2 hours to get there so I pushed on hoping this was just a fluke and it would get better. Unfortunately I was very wrong. It actually got much worse.
I must admit the description on Maine Trail Finder does mention rocky terrain but it classifies the entire trail system as easy. I could see it being easy for people who have no mobility issues at all. For anyone who even has trouble walking it could be quite a challenge.
The terrain was steep in places and the paths very narrow. There were also a lot of rocks as the description mentioned.
I also came upon my biggest pet peeve when it comes to trails, the dreaded bog bridge. If you aren't familiar with what a bog bridge entails, it is basically a log cut in half or two boards. The two halves are then laid side by side lengthwise creating a pathway over wet muddy areas.
Examples of bog bridges at Robinson Woods Preserve. Photo Credit: Enock Glidden
If you look at the picture of me in front of the bog bridge you can see that one more slab of log or board would make it possible for me to get across the bridge. I know bog bridges are a less expensive and easier way to build trails over wet or muddy areas but with a bit more effort and expense a boardwalk is so much better.
Sandy walked over the bridge to see if it might be worth the effort of bushwhacking around it but the terrain on the other side was even worse. When we came to the long bridge it was quite obvious we had to turn around.
On the way back we noticed there is a really nice road next to the trail that we were on. We weren't quite sure if it was part of the preserve or a driveway. I noticed there were preserve signs on the other side of the road so we figured it must be part of the preserve. We made the decision to check it out instead of bailing on the whole day.
This was the best decision ever. After passing by a meadow which is also part of the preserve we found the Pond Trail on the left. A pleasant surprise after the frustrating experience the first trail we tried.
The trail surface was hard packed dirt and mostly smooth for at least half a mile. here were rocks and roots but not so much that a wheelchair couldn't pass through very easily. There were very few inclines. The trail was mostly flat.
Some sections of the Pond Trail had minimal rocks and roots. Photo credit: Enock Glidden
We saw massive trees that had been blown over along the trail. Based on redwoods I have seen in California, I would say these trees are close to 1000 years old. They were huge. I sat beside one for scale so you could see how big they really are.
About a half a mile into the Pond Trail, we had the beautiful surprise of a running waterfall. This was such a calming place to just stop for a minute and take a break.
There is a boardwalk-type bridge across the stream that makes it very easy to get across. However there is an odd railing in the middle of the bridge that is about 6 inches wide. If they moved the railing to the outside. and put one on both sides with smaller boards, the bridge would be much more user-friendly. It is still plenty wide to get across even with the railing there, but having railings on the outside would make it safer for people with balance issues and generally safer for everyone.
Our next awesome moment on this trail was the reason it got its name. We found the pond. Wow! What a beautiful spot to have a picnic or just relax and meditate the day away. We saw a beaver, turtle, blue heron and other birds. We also saw a lot of things jumping in the water., We later determined from the information kiosk that it must be frogs jumping in the water.
This is where I would recommend most people turn around. The trail got a lot more difficult with an extreme tangle of roots after the pond area.
Once we continued on past the roots. I found more bridges. To my happy surprise they had 3 boards instead of 2 which made it possible for me to navigate across. I somehow misjudged the severity of the roots on this one and ended up flipped over on the ground. Once again, my pride was hurt more than my body.
There was also a longer bridge made up of 3 sections. This is the one and only time on this trail I needed help. The ends of the bridge were not quite made level to the ground. This made it hard to get up on the bridge. Once on the bridge though it was easy to get across. On the way back there was a small ramp on the end of the bridge. I was easily able to push onto the bridge and get across. I found that odd. I am not sure why they didn’t do that to both ends.
On the way back we met a woman who made the comment that it was nice to see me out on the trail. Some people would take offense to this statement but I took it from her point of view. I am quite sure I am the only wheelchair user she has ever seen in that preserve. With only 1.7 million of us in the whole United States it is a very rare thing for us to be seen in public. I think sometimes we need to take a person for what their life experience may be and not judge them based on that one moment in time. She probably grew up in a time when people who were disabled didn't have as many opportunities as we do now, a time when we may have been institutionalized.
She made one other statement that truly summed up the trail system. She said some of these roots even make it hard for me to walk on. I think that is the perfect summation to the terrain. With a little bit of work the Pond Trail could be about a mile long one way and totally accessible. I am extremely glad we didn't decide to leave after our initial experience. We would have missed out on a true gem in the heart of Cape Elizabeth Maine.
I would rate the Pond Trail Close to Accessible up to the pond area. While not legally accessible it is still very easy with a manual wheelchair. With some minor improvements, it would definitely be legally accessible. After that it is Doably Difficult with some help but probably not worth all the effort past the pond.
The first trail was just not doable at all.
Close to Accessible:
Could be legally accessible with a few minor improvements.
Only attempt if you're looking for a major workout and some risky moves.
If you have a different type of mobility issue or a totally different disability and you try out this property, 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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