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Environment

Work Begins On 'All Persons' Nature Trail In Manchester Cedar Swamp

Construction is underway on a new nature trail in Northwest Manchester, slated to open to the public in October. The project at the Nature Conservancy’s Manchester Cedar Swamp preserve will be one of just a handful of disability-friendly trails in the state.

“We’re excited to see a trail that goes beyond the minimum accessibility standards, to design a trail that works for the whole community of people with disabilities,” said Stephanie Patrick, the executive director of the Disability Rights Center-NH, at a groundbreaking ceremony Monday.

The “all persons” trail will be six feet wide at minimum with a smooth gravel surface for wheelchairs and strollers, lots of benches and accessible signage. It will include an audio tour in English and Spanish for the visually impaired and will not allow dogs or non-pedestrian uses.

Kim Thibeault is a long-time Manchester resident with limited vision. She said she and her family, some of whom also have visual impairments, are excited to enjoy a trail where all visitors are encouraged to expect and accommodate others with different abilities.

“Over time, with my vision decreasing, my access to nature and activities has decreased… [along with my] ability to feel independent and to get out on my own,” Thibeault said. “I’m feeling so blessed to have a place to come… to walk and feel safe in a place that’s just so beautiful.”

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A map of the new accessible trail at the Manchester Cedar Swamp.

The cedar swamp is a globally rare ecosystem, according to the Nature Conservancy, and is the largest conservation area in Manchester. Mayor Joyce Craig called it a “somewhat hidden treasure” just minutes from downtown. The upgraded trailhead will also include a city bus stop.

Nature Conservancy ecologist Joanne Glode, the accessible trails project manager, said public listening sessions led to special upgrades such as additional benches, with mile markers showing the distance from each one to the next.

“If you’re not sure you can make it to the next rest area, you might be more inclined to turn around and go back,” she said. “Just hoping that encourages some confidence and just is really open and out there in terms of what the experience is like.”

The Nature Conservancy worked with disability rights groups and the NAACP to design the project to be as welcoming as possible. Manchester NAACP president James McKim said the resulting trail will help all city residents feel safe in the outdoors.

“This trail has all those healing powers just like the trails in the mountains around this great state. But those mountains, those trails sometimes take hours to reach,” he said. “This is so close to where we live that we can get to it frequently for stress relief.”

For people of color, who may have felt unsafe in outdoor areas dominated by able-bodied white people where racial harassment can occur, McKim said the new trail’s features like ample signage and public transit access should create a more welcoming environment.

Nature Conservancy officials say soon, they hope to work with other conservation groups on statewide initiatives or potential policy changes to encourage more inclusive, accessible trails, in a state where popular outdoor destinations can often be rocky, steep or otherwise challenging.

The nonprofit opened its first accessible trail in the state in 2018, at its Ossipee Pine Barrens preserve – also a rare ecosystem in the state. They’re considering building their next such project on the Seacoast, around Great Bay.

There are several accessible trails in the White Mountain National Forest, including on the Kancamagus Highway and at Diana’s Baths in North Conway. Some state parks offer beach wheelchairs and accessible bathrooms and camping amenities, with accessible trails at Cathedral Ledge in the White Mountains and Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam.

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