Hiking events

The Belchertown Trail adds a sensory aspect to the hike

BELCHERTOWN — The area along Lake Wallace, long called the “swamp behind the police station,” has gained new ground with the opening of the city’s newest trails.

Nestled along the Skate Park and wetlands at the edge of the old Belchertown State School, now known as Carriage Grove, is the Lake Wallace Sensory Trail.

The trail, a multi-phase community project that spanned five years, began with a celebratory event on August 29 with more than 50 people in attendance. The trail is the start of what is expected to become Belchertown’s city-wide heritage trail system.

“We had 50 to 60 people there. It was a very good turnout and everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves and duly impressed, said planner Doug Albertson. “There has been an overwhelmingly positive reaction.”

Construction of the half-mile portion of the trail began in June 2021. The cost of this first phase of the project, which includes Community Preservation Act funds and local fundraising efforts, exceeded $200,000. $.

Initially, the proposal included the development of a basic walking trail near the lake and the old public school, but with community input and involvement like that of Vicky Martins-Auffrey of Team Jessica, who helped bring Jessica’s Boundless Playground to life in her honor. daughter, the project has evolved to make the trail accessible to all ages and abilities.

Albertson and Curatorial Administrator Erica Larner worked with project manager Andrew Kilduff and design partner MJ Halberstadt, both of New York-based design, development and consulting firm Terra Genesis International, to complete this track.

“As a community, we are thrilled to provide another accessible recreational opportunity for our roster,” said Board Chair Jen Turner. “This beautiful trail has opened up access to underutilized space and made it welcoming for our residents and visitors to enjoy the natural beauty of the area, as well as providing educational opportunities.”

Recognize lives lived

The design was born out of an effort to both celebrate Lake Wallace and recognize the significance of its location on the site of the former Belchertown State School, according to Louise Levy, the public schools liaison for Belchertown with the Wallace Lake Sensory Trail.

“One of the hopes for the trail is that it changes people’s perception, not only of the Lake Wallace area, but also of the possibilities for public school redevelopment,” Levy said, “–and that possibility to build a new positive narrative to the city around the space to acknowledge the lives that have been lived here.

During a recent tour of the new trail, Levy, who teaches science at Belchertown High School, detailed specific species of flora and fauna as well as the features that make the trail so accessible.

The path of the trail is wide and has a gently sloping course to allow those using wheelchairs or walkers to cross the course safely, she said.

Along the path are tactile markings, intended to guide blind or visually impaired people safely from one place to another. Among these markings is a coiled cable mounted on poles along the length of the trail with buttons indicating an upcoming sign with information.

“There are also these blocks, which are the steps of some of the buildings (of the public school) that were demolished, along the way. And so wherever these blocks are, a visually impaired person will feel it,” she said, “And that’s an indication that something on the track is changing.”

The trail is also equipped with panels combining images, writing and Braille to alert users of upcoming observation areas.

For more than a decade, Levy has taken his students on field trips around Lake Wallace. She said having the trail in place with specific viewing stations specifically geared towards landscape features provides a sort of learning laboratory.

“I mean, it’s like, absolutely transformative,” she said while standing on an observation deck. “It really shows how fabulous this lake is.”

Levy also helped write the language on the learning station signs.

“This landscape was formed when a huge chunk of ice broke off from a retreating glacier about 16,000 years ago,” she said. “As the ice slowly melted and meltwater flowed around it, the unique depression of the lake and surrounding area formed.”

In October, Levy will teach an earth science unit where students will learn how to read a map, draw a map, and land use practices. Students will also be asked to come up with a creative proposal for the continued redevelopment of the public school. Once the ideas are collected, Levy said, she will bring them to the planning board.

Although there has already been damage to some of the signs and the removal of touch marks as well as vandalism on the bridges, members of the city and the project team are trying to repair the damage. To report an area that needs maintenance, the Friends of the Lake Wallace Sensory Trail group encourages people to fill out a form at lwsensorytrail.org/maintenance-report.

In the fall, designs for Phases 2 and 3 of the project, which extend the current trail, will be finalized, according to Albertson.

Phase 2 includes the creation of a large loop around Foley Field with a viewing platform overlooking the lake and a bridge to the hiking trails, and Phase 3 is an extension that connects Foley Field to a point of departure. lookout overlooking the Mount Holyoke range.

Emily Thurlow can be contacted at [email protected]