Feature Article - October 2009
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Blazing a Trail

Designing & Maintaining Trails for Today's Users

By Kelli Anderson

Into the Woods

The benefits of nature to our well-being, a concept firmly established by countless studies, has been a blessing primarily limited to those able to access it. Thankfully, in recent years as trails and pathways are designed to accommodate bikes, strollers and roller blades, these networks are also paving the way to include wheelchairs and walking devices to reach beyond our city limits and into our woodlands and prairies.

In October 2007, the Carter School in Boston, recognizing the benefits of nature to their disabled student population, opened its doors to lead its children—most of whom are quadriplegic—into the classroom of the Great Outdoors. "We have a nature trail area called the Woodland Path," said Marianne Kopaczynksi, principal of the public school about their extensive outdoor garden. "There are tall grasses in a serpentine shape designed for quadriplegics who can't reach out to a flower but they can be gently touched by the grassy plumes."

The sensory garden, which includes a nature trail, a raised vegetable garden, water features, an outdoor classroom and more, was one of the first of its kind and required special consideration for the path that connects its many elements.

Knowing that a solid surface was necessary for the children's wheelchairs but wanting something more forgiving than asphalt, the project's landscape architect came up with a solution. "We came up with a rubberized surface as in a playground but eliminated the cushion layer, which is too bouncy," said David Berarducci, owner and principal of David Berarducci Landscape Architects based in Boston. "So we have an asphalt base with 1/2-inch layer of rubberized material."

The porous material, which lets water penetrate through to prevent puddling, was applied across the generous 5-foot pathway to allow for complete wheelchair turns and two-way traffic. Its natural-looking terra-cotta color is banded by a contrasting light cream to accentuate the pathway's edge.

Abiding by the ADA-recommended guidelines (a pitch not to exceed 2 percent or a slope greater than 5 percent), Berarducci admitted that a greater slope is possible but such a ramp requires a handrail. "It's a negotiable percentage," he conceded, "but you don't want to do that—visually handrails aren't attractive and they add to the cost."

Being familiar with the regulations, knowing the children's needs and finding creative solutions, this children's garden with its woodland pathway has given these children access to a world many of us take for granted.

"This is a healthy place. It's quiet and peaceful," Kopaczynski said. "A project like this is a jewel, and we need to support anyone trying to make this happen."