‘All Persons’ accessible trail under construction in Manchester: Breaking down barriers to the outdoors

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MacGregor Gay and his mom, Betsy, of Bedford on a stroll in the preserve. MacGregor is a client at Opportunity Networks, and is looking forward to better access to the outdoors once the Cedar Swamp Preserve trail is completed in October.

MANCHESTER, NHConstruction kicked-off July 26 on The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire’s new universally accessible trail—an effort that promises to bring more people closer to nature in the City of Manchester.

It’s no secret that outdoor recreation is part of what makes the Granite State great. But the reality is that our outdoor spaces are not accessible or welcoming to all. The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire is working to change this reality through the construction of its “All Persons Trail” at the Manchester Cedar Swamp Preserve, the city’s largest conserved area.

Today, on the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, The Nature Conservancy was joined by supportive community leaders, Manchester citizens, project funders and elected officials to mark the official groundbreaking of the All Persons Trail, which is anticipated to be completed and open to the public in October.

 “At The Nature Conservancy we believe equity and diversity are vital to a future where people and nature thrive together. Breaking ground on the Cedar Swamp All Persons Trail is part of our commitment to ensuring that New Hampshire’s conservation lands are welcoming and accessible for all who seek connection with our natural world, with each other and with themselves,” said Mark Zankel, State Director of The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire during Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony.

When finished, the trail will wind through the preserve’s unique and diverse habitats, showcasing mystical green wetlands, showy giant rhododendrons and funky rock formations formed during the retreating Ice Age. The trail’s design includes a flat, even surface for easy walking and unrestricted movement of assistance-providing devices like wheelchairs and strollers. Periodic benches will dot its length for frequent rest stops.

Manchester resident Kim Thibeault, a nature lover who also happens to have vision impairment, said she’s looking forward to having a safe and accessible place nearby where she can visit with her family and friends.

Visitors will also be treated to informative panels that highlight the sights, sounds and smells of the preserve, as well as an app-based audio tour that will be offered in both English and Spanish. A new stop on the City’s bus route will provide much-needed transportation to and from the preserve, located in the Hackett Hill area of Manchester.

Manchester resident Kim Thibeault, a nature lover who also happens to have vision impairment, said she’s looking forward to having a safe and accessible place nearby where she can visit with her family and friends.

“Knowing that this trail will be close by and accessible is going to improve my quality life in Manchester tremendously. Not only is this location accessible but knowing that it was built through partnerships with individuals within the disability community makes me feel like it really is a place for me,” Thibeault said.

Among the community groups present at the breaking ground event were the Disability Rights Center – New Hampshire and the NAACP of Greater Manchester. Both groups are two of many who The Nature Conservancy has consulted with about the construction of the new trail.

“As we celebrate the ADA and its transformative impact upon the daily lives of people with disabilities, it is also a time to reflect upon how we can build upon this landmark civil rights law and its vision of inclusion and equality. Architectural barriers too often prohibit people with disabilities from accessing their community but the All Persons Trail demonstrates what is possible when inclusion and equality are at the heart of design,” said, Stephanie Patrick, Executive Director, Disability Rights Center New Hampshire.

James McKim, President, NAACP of Greater Manchester at the microphone, spoke about the importance of inclusivity in public spaces.

James McKim, President of the NAACP of Greater Manchester also extended his support for the project.

“Everyone should be able to explore nature. That is how our bodies destress, recharge, and rejuvenate. We are excited to support the work of the Nature Conservancy in the creation of the All Persons Trail at Manchester Cedar Swamp with its wonderful set of trails so close to the place where we live. May it be a space where we all can come together and enjoy life,” McKim said.

Elected officials, including Senator Maggie Hassan, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschman, voiced their support for the project and pointed out the benefits to all New Hampshire residents who face barriers to accessing nature.

“Even though we have made important progress in the 31 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is still more work to do to strengthen inclusion in New Hampshire and across the country. Building a universally accessible trail at the Manchester Cedar Swamp Preserve will help ensure that people of all abilities can access and explore the beauty of our state,” said Hassan. “I am grateful to The Nature Conservancy and their partners for their efforts in making this project a reality.”


Before and after: The boardwalk portion of the trail (the loop over the swamp).

Craig highlighted the addition of bus service to the trailhead during her remarks. 

“Equitable access to outdoor spaces in Manchester is a priority – and this thoughtful project at the Manchester Cedar Swamp Preserve is meeting the needs of our community. The construction of the All Persons Trail by The Nature Conservancy, in conjunction with the expanded bus service to the trailhead by the Manchester Transit Authority, enables more residents to experience and enjoy this somewhat hidden treasure a beautiful urban preserve, the largest conservation area in the city, located on the West Side,” Craig said.

Executive Director of VF Foundation Gloria Schoch, one of the project’s early funders, was also in attendance at the celebration.

“The VF Foundation is proud to partner with The Nature Conservancy to ensure that everyone, regardless of abilities or background, can enjoy The Manchester Cedar Swamp Preserve’s unique ecosystem. We hope the inclusive design of the All Persons Trail, will inspire more community-centered projects across the country that are welcoming to all, while fostering active lifestyles and deepening our connection with nature,” said Schoch.

Updates on and announcements about the project—including information around temporary preserve closures and openings—are available at www.nature.org/manchester, as well as on The Nature Conservancy’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

RESOURCES


From Campus to Conserve: Brief History of the Cedar Swamp Preserve

From the Nature Conservancy website

A large portion of Hackett Hill, including parts of what is now the preserve, was slated to be UNH’s Manchester Campus.  Plans were drawn up and funding approved to start construction. Roads, granite curbs, underground power, parking lots and lighting were all installed.  Before classroom construction began, however, the state decided to relocate the campus into the old mills along the Merrimack River.  The Hackett Hill improvements remain to this day, creating a ghost town feel.

After the relocation of the campus, Manchester Cedar Swamp Preserve was protected through an innovative settlement agreement in 1999 between the City of Manchester, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.  Under the agreement, the City of Manchester agreed to establish a $5.6 million Supplemental Environmental Projects Program in order to do environmental restoration and protection projects. In exchange, the City was allowed to phase in stormwater control improvements to remove combined sewer overflow into the Merrimack and Piscataquog rivers.

The city allocated $2 million for protection of rare wetlands with a goal of preserving the globally rare Atlantic white cedar swamp and giant rhododendrons located in the Hackett Hill area. The cedar swamp is among the biggest and best quality in the state and was located in an area of several hundred acres of undeveloped land. The EPA asked The Nature Conservancy to own and manage these special lands because of our biodiversity mission and land management expertise. We received 350 acres from the City of Manchester in August 2001 and another 252 acres was added to the preserve in 2002 and 2003. In April 2015, we once again partnered with the City of Manchester to add another 40 acres—known as “the thumb”—to the preserve.


Supporters of the All Persons Trail include AARP, Anna B. Stearns Charitable Foundation, Appalachian Mountain Club, Disability Rights Center – New Hampshire, Madelaine G. von Weber Trust, NAACP of Greater Manchester, NH Parks and Recreation’s Recreational Trails Program, Norwin S. & Elizabeth N. Bean Foundation, Opportunity Networks, RiverWoods Manchester, Samuel P. Hunt Foundation, The VF Foundation, Southern New Hampshire University, and the Manchester community members who provided valuable input.


Below: Remarks from the July 26 groundbreaking ceremony