A nature trail opened Friday in the Hudson Highlands in Orange County that provides access for wheelchairs, walkers and strollers. The pathway at Black Rock Forest in Cornwall takes visitors to an overlook that provides 50 mile views up the Hudson Valley.
The Black Rock Forest Consortium opened the more than quarter-mile ADA-accessible pathway at the entrance to the 3,870-acre Black Rock Forest, affording visitors views to the Shawangunk and Catskill mountains.
“This is the deepest I’ve been into the woods in 36 years. I’ve used a wheelchair for 36 years of my life, since I was 18 years old,” Hovey says. “And this is a great experience to be here at Black Rock Forest and to be able to come out and enjoy the beauty of nature, and see the sights, hear the sounds and smell the great scents of the great outdoors. It’s just a fabulous experience.”
That’s Doug Hovey, who says there are few outdoor resources for people with disabilities. He’s executive director of Independent Living in Newburgh, which has centers in Middletown and Monticello. Hovey cut the ribbon Friday with New York State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey alongside. Harvey walked along the new pathway and praised the Black Rock Forest Consortium for providing access to all.
“Everybody can get into nature, into nature, and feel its effects, its positive effects, whether it’s silence, whether it’s the smells, whether it’s the vistas,” Harvey says. “And everybody said it couldn’t be done and it’s here and now and we’re on it and we’re on it for everyone.”
Dr. William Schuster is executive director of the nonprofit Black Rock Forest Consortium.
“Well, it’s access into a beautiful, natural, rugged wild area for all people, people with disabilities, the young, the old, who really have very few opportunities to really connect directly with nature,” Schuster says. “And we installed it in a way that minimizes any disruption to the surrounding over 100-year-old forest. And it really gives you the feel, the sights, the sounds, the smells of the forest itself.”
He says the ADA-accessible trail is the culmination of a 20-year dream.
“I realized we were only getting the fit and able-bodied people in Black Rock Forest, and we love working with those people, but there’s a whole other group that wasn’t being served,” Schuster says. “My mother was in a wheelchair for several years. We all know people with disabilities or have them ourselves. And so the nugget was just the connection with so many people that need something like this.”
The 10-foot wide packed stone Visitor Access Pathway was constructed over a six-month period beginning in March 2016 using nearly $217,000 in funding from the state Environmental Protection Fund and equivalent in-kind contributions of labor and materials from the Black Rock Forest Consortium. The October completion coincides with National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Blooming Grove resident Andrew Weyant is Independent Living Board of Directors vice president.
“I’m a nature boy at heart and I love getting out in the woods and getting out and seeing nature and being able to access it,” Weyant says. “It’s awesome.”
Like Weyant, Kara Dorsey uses a wheelchair. She’s also on Independent Living’s Board of Directors.
“I think it’s beautiful. I think it’s wonderful. And it’s a great place to come and bring my service dog Brewer for exercise," Dorsey says. "We live right in Cornwall. So I’m very excited that we’ll be able to have access to this amazing trail.”
Cornwall-on-Hudson resident Leslie Riley walked the path with her husband John.
“Both of us, we’re at that age where the hips ache a little bit or the knee aches a little bit,” Riley says. “And it’s nice to have a really accessible walk.”
Eddie Walsh is manager of High Falls based Tahawus Trails. Walsh has constructed other ADA-accessible trails in New York in addition the new one at Black Rock Forest.
“What makes this unique is the terrain. As you can see out here, it’s a really steep mountainside, bedrock is very close to the surface and the soils are pretty thin,” Walsh says. “So that was a big challenge here that made it really a stretch and why many people said it couldn’t be done.”
In the Hudson Valley, another ADA-accessible path is at Bear Mountain. At Black Rock Forest, the pathway will be equipped with ADA-accessible benches using wood from the forest. The second and final phase of the Visitor Access Pathway is being planned for construction in 2017 and opening in 2018.