The primary goal for building the half-mile, universally accessible trail currently under construction in Hubbard Park is to make the park more accessible to those in wheelchairs or with limited mobility; however, expectations are that the new trail, which will include interpretive signs and go through several ecosystems, is going to be popular with everyone. After all, isn’t that what “universal” is all about?
The trail, expected to be completed before winter, will extend from the new shelter, which people can drive to and where there is parking, to the tower. The route meanders through the woods, providing gradual ascent and passing interesting sights.
“Oftentimes, our parks are created and programmed for only certain segments of our community or available to certain people,” Kelly Stoddard Poor, the associate state director of AARP Vermont, said in a recent interview. “We want to make sure that our public spaces are more inviting and accessible and welcoming to people of all ages and abilities.” Poor added that when we consider both young kids and older adults in our planning, we’re likely to create spaces that work for everyone.
The AARP, which emphasizes the needs of older Vermonters, wrote a letter of support for the city’s 2020 grant application to the state’s Recreation Trails Program. The Vermont Center for Independent Living, which emphasizes the needs of Vermonters with disabilities, also wrote in support of the application.
“In order to be a truly diverse, inclusive community,” Peter Johnke, deputy director of the Vermont Center for Independent Living, said in an interview, “we need to make sure everybody has access to all aspects of life, not just work or school or the building that they need to get into, but also outdoor recreation, social activities, and music venues.”
The application for the $46,070 grant was successful, and Timber & Stone, of East Montpelier, was hired to build the trail. The company, which will be paid $56,500, started work during the last week of August. Parks Director Alec Ellsworth said the city is keeping the total cost down by using park staff for some of the work. The estimated total cost of the project, including paying park staff, is $68,500; with the $22,430 balance coming from the city’s capital improvements budget.
Ellsworth said building the 2,500-foot-long trail has several steps, beginning with excavating the selected route. Three to six inches of drainage stone are laid and covered with a permeable fabric, and three to six inches of trail surface material are then put on top. The trail is smoothed and compacted, and the edges are restored, so there are no gaps on the sides.
“There are a lot of great universally accessible trails in Vermont, and you often find them as boardwalks through wetlands … or bike paths along rivers — places that are flat and kind of easy to make,” Ellsworth said. “This (trail) is unusual in the sense that it’s a long, accessible trail through a forested path. I only know of a couple of others in Vermont.”
The steepness of many places in Hubbard Park is a challenge. Federal guidelines for universally accessible trails generally limit them to a grade of 5% or less, with slightly higher grades allowed for short stretches along the path. The path must also be a “firm, unyielding surface” and at least three feet wide. This trail will generally be five feet wide, which will allow two people to walk side-by-side or easily pass each other.
“One thing I like about the trail is there are a lot of different ecosystems along the way,” Ellsworth said. “There’s the big, beautiful hardwood forest up at the top, with the big oaks and sugar maples, like up around the tower. Then you get down to the middle section and you have the forested wetlands, so the tree types are much different. There are spruce and hemlock … and then down at the bottom you get to some of the big pines.”
Ellsworth expects the trail to be used by school groups. While this reporter was walking the trail with him, he had a discussion with the owner of Timber & Stone, Josh Ryan, about the future placement of one of the signs at the bottom of the trail; the question was what would be the best placement of the sign for school groups.
Ellsworth said the trail will be groomed for cross-country skiing in the winter, and Poor said that until Oct. 19, AARP Vermont is taking applications for winter placemaking grants of up to $4,000 that could be used to purchase snowshoes, poles, headlamps, or other equipment that could increase accessibility for some people. AARP Vermont will be awarding six grants, and she said, as an example, some local organization could apply for a grant to set up a winter equipment lending library.