As a lifelong Mainer and someone who loves photography, I have spent many hours traveling around the state to view and snap pictures of our gorgeous coastal beaches, stunning mountains, and rivers, lakes, and streams.
While I don’t mind a little walk from a parking lot to take photos and enjoy the breathtaking views, I am not someone you would consider an “avid hiker.” I think the last mountains I climbed were Mount Blue, close to 35 years ago (I remember coming down the mountain and putting a hole in the toe of my shoe) and Bradbury Mountain with my church youth group in the 1980s.
I have been the webmaster at the Natural Resources Council of Maine for more than 20 years. During that time, I have had the opportunity to share hundreds of beautiful My Maine This Week photos sent to us from our members and supporters. Many of these photos render me speechless because of their incredible perspectives. I love seeing these photos because I know that they are views I would never see if not getting the photos sent to my inbox.
Starting in my mid-teens, I have dealt with knee issues. Four knee surgeries later, I have some trouble getting around. I also need a new hip, but the doctor said to wait as long as I can since I am not quite 50 (though I will be soon). With mobility issues, I know that trekking down a long or steep path or climbing a mountain could be painful and even dangerous for me. Along with physical issues, I am not what one would consider “graceful,” so the images that people capture on Knife’s Edge atop Katahdin, while incredible, make my mind wander to what would happen if I tried to a) climb Katahdin, and b) try to take my camera out of my backpack and shoot photos while balancing on rocks nearly a mile above ground.
This long intro is my way of explaining why I was so excited when NRCM, as part of our Conservation Leadership Awards, presented our People’s Choice Award to the Hirundo Wildlife Refuge in 2016, a category determined by popular vote. Stephanie Larouche, a member of Hirundo’s founding family, shared in her speech that the Refuge would be creating a fully accessible trail system so that people of all ages with visual and physical mobility issues could enjoy the Refuge. Over the past few years, staff and volunteers at the Refuge created the Trail of the Senses, about four-tenths of a mile of trails that meet all ADA requirements and are accessible to people with varying physical and visual abilities.
I am already making plans to head to Hirundo next summer to explore these trails. I am not sure-footed, so often other hiking trails and paths, with their roots and rocks, are difficult for me to navigate safely. A wide, smooth, hard-packed path that offers opportunities to view fields and forests on the Refuge sounds wonderful to me!
Without the People’s Choice Award, I am not sure I would have ever known about this outdoor recreation opportunity as it is about an hour and a half from my house. Now, we have added the paths to NRCM’s Explore Maine Map so that more people can find it as they are looking for places to explore, especially as we are continuing to socially distance and find outdoor, fresh air opportunities.
Do you know of additional outdoor recreation opportunities around the state that are accessible for people who may use wheelchairs or have other accessibility needs? If so, please send us information about them so we can add them to our Explore Maine Map, which is also fully accessible and translatable by using our Recite Me tool.
—Beth Comeau, NRCM Communications Manager