Take a Hike! Wheel Friendly Hikes
He is a stay-at-home dad with twin toddlers and a big stroller, keen on fitness. She is the caretaker of a disabled person using a wheelchair, and both are feeling housebound and cabin feverish. She is a mother looking for a safe place for her and her children to ride their bikes, in-line-skates, or scooters without encroachment by cars. He is tired of sidewalks, and wants to get into the woods, but his mobility is somewhat limited. The Town of Plymouth has two locations that can meet the needs of many kinds of people like these whose mobility depends on wheels. These paths are paved and present no barriers like curbstones, or steps.
At present, the Town has no certified Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible routes. There is a long-term plan to upgrade to ADA standards the entire length of Town Brook trail from the bay to Billington Sea, but that is a work in progress. There are two places in Plymouth that offer an open space experience for wheel dependent users and are closest to ADA designation: The Seaside Rail Trail and Forges Field.
1. The Seaside Rail Trail
Probably the most popular trail in all of Plymouth is this one running from Nelson Park just north of the downtown, along the bay shore, and extending to the Cordage. Originally a little more than one mile, ending at Hedge Road, the Seaside Trail has recently been connected with Cordage Park and is now about 1.5 miles, one way. Future plans include a southern extension to Lothrop Street.
There are food and beverage options at both ends, in season, including an open-air beer garden right next to the big Cordage chimney, with million-dollar ocean views. The trail varies from woodsy tunnels to wide open meadows and offers views of the marsh with its well-known osprey nest, a gorgeous flower garden alongside the track and the expanse of Plymouth Bay to the east.The surface varies also, from asphalt paving to gravel, with stretches of crushed stone (very fine gravel.) It is totally flat. Far from busy Route 3A, the silence is blissful and serene. There is parking at Nelson Beach, at the Cordage, and at the former terminus of the trail at the end of Hedge Road.
While there are no barriers or curbs, there are some problems: some of the transitions between surfaces are a few inches high, and rainstorm erosion has resulted in an uneven surface in places. The newest northern extension is the roughest: parts are gravely dirt road. A possible issue is the “Grace Trail,” the stones painted with “inspirational” words and phrases. Some people love this, others see it as a form of graffiti detracting from the natural environment. Lastly, the signage is obsolete: the trail does not “End Here,” and the easement along Sandri Drive has no signage other than “Private Property.” How would anyone know? One knows from the Cordage end: near the train station, there is a wooden gate, like the entrance to a Western ranch, which says “Seaside Rail Trail.” And then a fun, too short boardwalk to the beachside track! Plymouth is fortunate to have this beautiful, popular and wheel friendly trail.
2. Forges Field
There are few places in Plymouth better than Forge’s Field for parents to take their school age children to practice their rollerblading, scooter, and bicycle riding. The trail is protected from parking lots by a wooden fence and is completely separated from any vehicular traffic, and there are no barriers to accessing the trail. There is plentiful parking in three large lots (and there is a fourth that seems to be used only by teenagers doing donuts in their cars.) The best place to park is in the central lot, near the playground, if the group includes little ones. The playground offers a different kind of fun. There are chemical toilets nearby. Two miles of wide paved trails wind around and through the playing fields, in the woods but not too far. The terrain is undulating with only one real hill. The older kids can take off by themselves, because the trails are all circular and getting lost would take some effort. Except for the area directly in front of the playground, where tree roots have erupted thru the asphalt, the riding surface is smooth. The whole family can enjoy the leafy woodland forest while wheeling along. Another feature of this location is the large number of glacial erratic’s; massive boulders that melted out of the ice field millennia ago. Some were probably bulldozed to the sides of the ball fields during construction and now they seem as intentional as furniture. They make for some good climbing. The only thing that Forges Field does not offer is a pond view, which for Plymouth, home to over 350 ponds, seems odd.
3. Other Options: There are three other options that are not Town of Plymouth properties.
a. One option is the bike paths in Miles Standish State Forest, where there are over 15 miles of paved surface for walking & wheeling. These two-lane paths are entirely in the woods and far separated from automobile traffic. They are in generally good condition, not overly hilly, and have a pleasant sinuousness about them. No curbs. There are sections with raised tree roots, or drifts of pine needles covering the asphalt. The only caveat is that spandex-wearing bike racers sometimes speed past slower travelers, but generally they keep to the automotive roads for their sprints. The Camping Pond Loop, starting at the Forest headquarters on East Head Pond on the southern edge of the state park, is a relatively easy route that circles two beautiful ponds, Fearing and Charge. This route is a combination of dedicated bike trails and some very lightly trafficked roads. The most strenuous route is Rocky Pond Path. Parking at the East Entrance at Long Pond Road and using the Frost Pocket Path is not recommended because it is very long (5.4 miles one way ) tending to be busier and is a less interesting route, especially for someone on foot.
b. Another option is the walking trails in the Pine Hills. While this is private property outside of the very public Village Green area, no one will stop you and demand your papers. There is a large network of paved, five-foot-wide paths, generally very smooth and not bumpy. No curbs. The paths do follow the roadways but are not sidewalks - they are set apart from the road with a woodsy buffer. The roads are graded to accommodate automobiles and trucks, but the paths follow the natural knob and kettle contour of the land. The hills can be hard work in places, so this network is best for athletic stroller pushers and only older children on wheels. Still, though civilization is very close, you can experience the leafy, ferny or pine needle strewn forest landscape, sharing it with only the chipmunks. Some of the walkways have lighting, so if the setting winter sun throws you into shadows, you can still proceed. Two caveats: be careful where you park; around the Market is probably best. And stick to the signed walking paths and do not wander onto the golf cart paths.
c. Lastly, the Cape Cod Canal service roads in Bourne are very well known and extremely popular and wheel friendly. This area is certified ADA accessible. No barriers, no curbs. There are 7.5 miles of paved path on the north and 6.5 miles on the south, in very good condition. It is readily accessible at a number of points, with ample public parking. On the northern side, one can park at Scusset Beach (entrance fee in season,) under the Sagamore Bridge, at the Herring Run or in downtown Buzzard’s Bay near the railroad bridge. On the southern side, there is parking under the Bourne Bridge, at the Aptucxet Trading Post Museum, and at the Cape Cod Canal Visitor’s Center near the electric power plant. Additionally, there are many other informal parking spots on both sides. This wheeling walkway is not a forest experience, but it is a highly entertaining waterside scene of people on the move, fishermen, restaurants, boats, bird life and migrating herring in season. The stunning views make it one of the most beautiful walks anywhere. The only issue is the winds, which can be fierce. Nice to have at your back, a killer trudging into a headwind.