Dan and Angela Boyle: Universal access programs at state parks are first rate

Last modified: Monday, August 17, 2015

To the editor:

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation Universal Access Program. The program is committed to providing outdoor recreation opportunities in Massachusetts State Parks for visitors of all abilities. Accessibility to the state parks is achieved through site improvements, specialized adaptive recreation equipment and accessible recreation programs.

Two such programs are All Out Adventures which may be reached at 413-584-2052 (alloutadventures.org), and Outdoor Access, a service offered via Stavros Center for Independent Living Inc., with offices in Amherst, Springfield and Greenfield (stavros.org/outdoor-access.html).

We learned about All Out Adventures and Outdoor Access through participation in the Pioneer Valley Brain Injury Support Group co-founded in 2010 by Anne Flaherty and Linda and Steve Lang-Gunn. That group meets on the first Thursday of the month from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at 49 Middle St. in Hadley.

Coincidentally, Flaherty’s late mother, Isabelle Carrigan, was among the first to receive services from Stavros after its founding in 1974. For example, due to having Parkinson’s disease, Carrigan would have been house-bound without the aid of Stavros arranging to have a ramp built to enable her to access and exit her home.

Through specialized equipment and trained staff, All Out Adventures programs are designed to encourage people of all abilities and ages to recreate together, providing opportunities for them to develop skills and share outdoor experiences in every season. Some activities include kayaking, canoeing, cycling, camping, cross-country skiing, ice skating and snowshoeing. Some of the disabilities represented in the programs include: age-related disabilities, amputee, autism, brain injury, blind or visual impairment, deaf or hearing impairment, multiple sclerosis, and many more.

AOA’s program director is Sue Tracy, who is a hands-on instructor and often a cheerleader for both staff members and activities participants. AOA team members for cycling include Aaron Evans-Janes, Natalie Harris, Mariah Fontaine, Jakob Palches, Maggie Shar, Hanna Waldman, while Universal Access Program staff members are Andrea Lontine, Lee Ann LaRue and Matthew Mitchell. Canoeing team members are Rowan Gay, Palches, Harris and Lontine, while kayaking members are Caitlin Shapiro, Gay, Harris and Lee Ann Lane.

The cycling activities involving AOA originate off Railroad Street in Hadley on Fridays and from their 214 State St. headquarters on Saturdays. The water adventures vary throughout the state, but locally they are at the DAR in Goshen off Route 9. Advance reservations are required.

Outdoor Access (OA) has modified equipment so participants may kayak with hand paddles or use an adaptation for a weak grasp, travel in a mountain wheelchair or try a sit-ski. OA provides staff and volunteers to assist with transfers on the trails, on the water and snow to have a great experience. Plus, Stavros provides transportation to these activities.

Assisting with the kayaking adventure at the DAR in Goshen under the guidance of Brenda Kennedy Davies, OA director, are staff members including Molly Lawlor, kayak assistant, Sue Ferraro, volunteer, LeeAnn LaRue, lifeguard, Andrea Lontine, lifeguard, and Momina Sims, work-study student volunteer.

While Massachusetts often is criticized for any number of things, when it comes to caring for those people who have a wide variety of injuries, our state is first rate. And, much credit is due to the DCR, All Out Adventures and Outdoor Access. The opportunities they offer and the people they employ are the best anywhere. Give them a try and let them prove themselves.

Dan and Angela Boyle



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