By: Joan Moody, senior public affairs specialist, DOI
Mud Pond Trail has attracted a lot of accolades for a short trail in the White Mountains Region of New Hampshire little more than half a mile long. Located in the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Mud Pond became a tiny part of the nation’s first National Blueway — the huge Connecticut River watershed — in May 2012.
|Hubert Gall REALLY enjoys the universally accessible Mud Pond Trail in New Hampshire. Photo by Ursula Gall.|
A year later, on May 31, 2013, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Director of the National Park Service Jonathan B. Jarvis honored Mud Pond and other trails in the country as national recreation trails, adding a total of 650 miles to the National Trails System.
But what visitor Hubert Gall and his family love most about Mud Pond Trail is the universal accessibility for those in wheelchairs, like Hubert. "A concerted effort involving volunteers and government oversight is making it possible for physically impaired individuals to get back in touch with nature," Gall says.
Mud Pond Trail enabled Gall, disabled 20 years ago, to be back “in the forest” and in the outdoors he loves. Accessibility is an important part of President Barack Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors program, which aims to bring all Americans closer to nature as part of a community-driven 21st century conservation agenda.
The Youth Conservation Corps, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff and volunteers from the Friends of Pondicherry constructed the trail over a five-summer period. It has a 900-foot-long raised boardwalk with rest stops that offer extraordinary views of a boreal forest and wetland communities.
The trail gives visitors, including those in strollers and wheelchairs, an experience unique in New Hampshire. Opportunities for wheelchair-accessible trails are limited in the mountains, and visitors pass through a wetland forest community uncommon to the Connecticut River Valley and end up at a beautiful pond and fen deep within the refuge.
Benches allow visitors to sit and observe the wildlife, plant communities and scenery. Mud Pond is home to three carnivorous plants and unusual wildlife for its part of New England, ranging from the Arctic Jutta butterfly to the yellow-bellied flycatcher.
Andrew French, wildlife refuge manager of the Silvio Conte refuge, hopes that more accessible trails can be built in the future. In fact, one of the early successes for the Connecticut River Blueway was acquiring $250,000 worth of excess lumber to build ADA-accessible trails and other public access facilities. Such trails are particularly appropriate in national Blueways because these nationally recognized rivers and their watersheds are chosen for their diverse stakeholder partnerships committed to sustaining working lands, natural resources and outdoor recreation.
National recreation trail designation also helps elevate the visibility of Mud Pond as an outdoor recreation site, French says. Communities and other partners supporting the establishment of national recreation trails receive a certificate of designation, a letter of congratulations from Jewell and a set of national recreation trail markers.
“We were very excited to receive this recognition for the Mud Pond Trail from the Secretary,” French says. “This outcome would not have been possible without the help of our partners, generous volunteers and the efforts of our Youth Conservation Corps over a period of several years. We are in the process of building a similar trail on the Fort River Division of the refuge located in Hadley, Massachusetts. ”
Meanwhile, because Hubert Gall and Ursula, his wife of 50 years, only spend about three days a year in New Hampshire‘s North Country, the trail helps them make the best use of the their time. Their daughter Sharon Harvell said in a thank-you note to the refuge that the trail made this year’s vacation “so extra special” for her parents. The efforts of Interior employees and their partners are much appreciated.