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.
After heading to the coast last time, this time we decided to try finding an adventure closer to home. We perused the Maine Trail Finder map and landed on Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, Maine. This is a hidden gem in the middle of Bridgton. It isn't marked as accessible, but the trail descriptions sounded doable to me.
I always want to caution anyone using my posts as a way to gauge how hard an experience will be. I have quite good upper body strength and mobility. Others might struggle more than I did or maybe it will be easier for some. I can only say how it worked for me.
We entered the park off a street called FL39 near the LEA Maine Lake Science Center. We were greeted at the kiosk with a sign that said “This trail is not suited for mobility devices." Of course, being me I had to find out for myself. I always say if you don’t go, you don’t know. Maybe they just didn’t have the right knowledge about what can and can't be accomplished using mobility devices. Maybe they were making a blanket statement that wasn’t necessarily true for everyone.
The first trail into the park is the Willet Brook Trail which is rated easy in the description. I think this is accurate for people who have good mobility. It would be accurate for wheelchair users but there are a few issues that make it a bit harder for us. All of the trails are forest floor surface and quite soft which makes it harder to push. There are definitely a lot of root systems to navigate. The roots aren’t very big and are easily avoided. I am really good at stopping, thinking, and then picking a path.
There are bridges from time to time which are really well made and plenty wide enough for a wheelchair. However, here is where the first issue came to play. The ends of the bridges are either washed out or badly established. Some are so high there is no way I could have pushed up over it even with doing a wheelie. I had to have help at these points but it wasn’t a struggle to make it work. There was also one bridge that had a board missing at the very beginning. Had I not noticed that, it could have made me fall out of my chair.
Pushing my wheelchair on the trail in this section was mostly easy other than the occasional root. There are very few hills and the trail is really wide. The scenery is very green this time of year and there are great access points to view Willet Brook.
Along the trail we came around a corner and discovered an old chimney that had a deck built around it. I was pleasantly surprised to see a ramp that easily allowed me to access the platform.
Willet Brook Trail eventually merges into the Pondicherry Loop trail. Continuing to follow straight took us to the main entrance on Depot Street by the movie theater. This is a big paved parking lot and definitely where I would recommend starting from rather than the parking lot on FL39. From there the trail starts mostly downhill or flat.
As we got close to our parking lot on the Pondicherry Loop trail, we came upon the 60-foot bridge. This bridge is very wide and has a gradual slope until entering the covered bridge portion. It does get steeper but it was not too steep for me. I found it quite easy to push myself across.
The whole hike was about 1.6 miles round trip.
I am trying to figure out a good rating system for trails that would allow people who are wheelchair users to get a good sense of the difficulty. I am going to rate this one "Wheelie Easy." Of course it was only Wheelie Easy because I had help on the bridges. This could very easily be an accessible trail with some work on the bridges and a bit of dirt here and there to cover some of the larger root systems.
I would say I disagree with the kiosk sign and would highly recommend trying this one for any wheelchair user who has someone to help with the bridges.
A trail that is easy to push on, has very few obstacles, and is mostly flat.
If you have a different type of mobility issue or a totally different disability and you try out this Park, please comment on this post and let us know what your feedback would be. The more knowledge we gather and share, the more people we can get outside using the trails of Maine!
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