One of the central tenets of our mission is “to provide meaningful experiences and environmental education for all,” and we recognize that physical access is a real barrier for many visitors who wish to engage with nature. Over the past four years, we’ve been removing such barriers by converting segments of our trail system to become wheelchair friendly. The response from the community has been tremendous and has fueled our drive to keep going.
New Ways to Experience a Unique Aquatic Habitat
Thanks to the Elizabeth Elser Doolittle Charitable Trust, we were able to open one of our most ambitious segments to date in late 2017 with the completion of the Mystery Pond and South Ravine Accessible Trail. Branching off the Mystery Lake segment, (completed 2016), the new trail draws visitors toward Mystery Pond, and a beautiful boardwalk across the entire expanse of the water leads visitors on to experience this unique aquatic habitat at all depths.
Mystery Pond Area Thrives
Before the new Mystery Pond and South Ravine Accessible Trail was created, the pond’s old teaching deck was becoming warped, water fluctuations had made school group access from the platform difficult, and the surrounding habitat was becoming overgrown with invasive plants. Fast forward one year, and the entire area is thriving. Ongoing restoration around the lake and pond has dramatically enhanced the health of the landscape. Invasive vegetation like buckthorn and honeysuckle has been removed, and native perennials like Zigzag Goldenrod, Viburnum, and Wild Geranium are finding a second life in a new home after having been rescued from other project areas at the Center.
Today it’s not uncommon to find a school group on their bellies, with nets in the water, searching for pond creatures. A bench in memory of our longtime Naturalist Jean “JP” Pagel provides a resting place and a perfect vista to view dragonflies or sunning painted turtles. During winter months the pond makes for an easy cold-weather hike.
Access for All
Thanks to the Elizabeth Elser Doolittle Charitable Trust and many other contributors, transformations like this one are occurring across the Center. Not only does our accessible trail system continue to grow, but our ability to accommodate all members of the community also grows stronger with each and every new segment.