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.
Hey fellow hikers! I am going for a little contrast this time with a trip to the Runaround Pond Recreation area rated "Moderate" and the West Side Trail rated "Accessible" on Maine Trail Finder. I like to show people possibilities beyond what they might think is accessible, just in case, there is someone out there like me who craves a challenge.
I had been driving by the Runaround Pond Recreation Area on almost every trail trip this season. Every time I drove by I kept thinking how beautiful it looks and I really wanted to check it out for myself. At the time I decided this, I didn't realize it was rated "Moderate." When I looked it up on MTF, like I always do before heading out on trail, I saw the rating. I figured I was going to have someone with me so why not try it?
I took my stepson Logan with me on this adventure and it turned out to be a very good decision. He was very helpful in getting this trail done.
When we first arrived we found a really nicely done parking lot with an actual bathroom on site. It looked to be accessible other than the small step to get inside.
There is also a really great spot to sit by the pond just off of the parking lot. I failed to take a picture of it since I headed straight for the trail.
The kiosk at the start of the trail is very tall and impossible to read from a wheelchair height. Hopefully, that can be remedied.
Ok, enough about the trailhead let's get into the trail This trail actually starts out deceivingly easy for a moderate rating. It becomes obvious they weren't rating it based on the beginning.
For the most part, the trail is nice and wide for this first section even when passing between trees.
There are a few roots and rocks but nothing that isn’t manageable. There are also two road crossings as this trail is a loop back to the parking lot.
After this first road crossing, things started to get a bit more interesting and challenging. I was met almost immediately with massive root systems for a long stretch. In fact, it was so long I had Logan hike ahead to see if it ever stopped. He reported that it did get better eventually. We chose to keep going.
Of course, better is a relative term in this case - haha. The trail got very narrow and jungle-like with tons of vegetation creeping into the trail. It was soft so I could push through it which made navigating difficult since I couldn't see what was under it. It was so thick in places I almost couldn't see the trail ahead of me.
I again had Logan hike ahead to see if we should turn around. He again assured me that it does get better. Thankfully he was right. It got a lot better almost wheelie easy for a few hundred feet.
This was almost the very end of the trail and we were almost to the reason I kept wanting to stop and check this place out -- the pond. Just as the trail starts to approach the next road crossing to the parking lot there is a really difficult hill. I had to get help on this one for sure.
We went right then left and made it through this section with a lot of help from Logan. All the effort was worth it for the awesome view we encountered at the top.
To get down to the road there is a slightly steep but manageable hill. Truth be told you could literally just cross the road from the parking lot and go up this hill to the beautiful view without doing the whole trail, but what fun would that be?
There is one issue with the road crossing back to the parking lot. The entry to the parking lot is through a gap in the guard rail and down a steep path. The gap is too narrow for a wheelchair. We had to stroll along the edge of the road for a few hundred feet to get back to the parking lot.
This one is definitely accurately rated for those that can walk easily. For us wheelchair users I would rate this one Wheelie Advanced. The root sections are really difficult and I needed help multiple times. It was well worth it though.
The other trail we did is the West Side Trail. I had been hearing about this trail from quite a few people and finally had to check it out.
I went to MTF as always and found the parking icon to get directions. This fact comes in handy later on in the story. We parked at the park and ride and found the trail just off the edge of the pavement.
As we started the trail, the surface looked really good and flat, except the trail builders used crushed rock for the surface. We came to a set of railroad tracks that had pretty significant gaps because of the rails but the boardwalk in between was excellently constructed.
The trail mysteriously started getting narrower which made me think we might not be in the right place.
I also didn't see any boardwalks other than between the railroad tracks. I had been told there were really well-made boardwalks. This was another clue we were not in the right place.
Eventually, we came to a road crossing and a very awesome moment after crossing the road. As usual, I was looking down at the ground for throw-me-out-of-my-chair obstacles and I heard Logan say DEER! I look up and standing just a few feet away in the brush was a small deer looking right at me. It looked like it was thinking "what the heck are you doing here?" and I was thinking the same thing.
We just stood still and it eventually wandered into the woods.
We went on our way until we came to the end of the trail at Elm St. Right before the end of the trail it looks like some kids have set up a bicycle jump with boards. Just be aware it might still be there.
This is where I confirmed we were definitely in the wrong place.
I returned to the van and went to MTF to do some research. I finally noticed that there was another accessible section of the trail on the other side of town. It was also called West Side Trail but lacked a parking icon. I set the GPS to get us to a nearby road. [Ed. Note: We reached out to the trail managers and added a parking icon near the second section of the trail after Enock visited.]
Speaking of noticing another accessible section, did you know that when there are accessible trails available on the map there is a button to make them show up in blue? I love that feature. [Ed. Note: For more information on MTF's accessibility features, click here.]
When we arrived at the second trail section, it was confusing to figure out to where to park. The trail actually starts at the sidewalk but I wasn't sure if I could park there. There is also what looks like a parking area across the road and one by the kiosk. The kiosk unfortunately needs a lot of updating. There isn't much information and the map is so faded it is really hard to read.
The trail is very well done. The boardwalks are just as awesome as everyone told me. It is very obvious a lot of hard work, time, and money went into constructing this trail.
The trail is nice and wide throughout I would say it is close to a mile long, if not longer. It winds through the woods and marshes with switchbacks to lessen the grade.
While in the woods you will find a few beautiful spots to sit on benches. There is one bench that would be very hard to walk around in order to sit on it but a wheelchair has plenty of room. It really just needs to be slid back a couple of feet.
There are a number of intersections where the trail leaves or enters the woods. I think it would be helpful to have signs at the various intersections with “You are Here” maps to show how far you have gone. It would also be helpful to have distance markers so people know how far they have gone and how far back to the beginning it is. It also isn't always obvious if the right choice is to go left or right. I chose to always stay to the left until the trail looped back to the right.
At the very end where the trail loops back, it looks as though it enters the woods because there are still blue blazes on the trees. This is where it goes from "Accessible" to "Wheelie Advanced." I attempted to continue just to see where it might lead. I was met with a section where I just couldn't quite find a path forward.
Since I was there to show the accessibility I just turned and made my way back to the van. Be aware that the trail is literally all uphill back to the beginning. It can be lessened by going back through the woods and using the switchbacks. I chose to stick to the straight-back section. This is where a smoother surface would work better. The crushed rock makes it really hard to push a wheelchair. I found it to be a really good workout. My shoulders definitely felt it by the end.
This trail is without a doubt constructed to the letter for accessibility. I also love the fact that it is fairly long with a diverse set of scenery to be enjoyed. I would highly recommend checking it out if you are in the Yarmouth area.
This year I am hoping to get some group or one on one hikes together. I would love to interview other people with disabilities about their experiences in the outdoors. The more perspectives we can get the better the information will be and the more progress we can make. Please contact us if you are interested in collaborating or joining me on a hike!
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. If you would like to visit a trail with Enock feel free to reach out. He would love to have people join him in the outdoor spaces of Maine. The more knowledge we gather and share, the more people we can get outside using the trails of Maine!
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