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A second chance at enjoying nature

Accessible trails help Antrim duo with spinal injuries get back out into the world

GREENFIELD — Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center’s accessible trails opened for the season on May 9, giving people with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors in a safe and natural environment.

Two people you can bet on seeing out on the trails are Antrim residents Laura Clark and Jennifer Crowell, whose similar injuries have fostered to a lifelong friendship.

In 2004, Clark was traveling home from Keene on Route 9 when her car struck a moose. The spinal injury she suffered in the accident left her using a wheelchair.

“Before the injury I was an avid hiker. These trails allow me to hike again,” said Clark on Monday.

She has been using the trails since they first opened in 2011.

“My favorite part of the accessible trails is being able to be close to nature. Being in a wheelchair means a lot of cement and concrete, but on these trails it truly feels like you are deep in the woods,” said Clark.

In 2008, Crowell was living in Michigan when she dove into murky shallow waters, leaving her using a wheelchair as a result of a spinal injury. The accident would forever link her to Clark.

“Laura’s family reached out to mine immediately due to our similar injuries,” said Crowell, who moved back to New Hampshire to be with her family as she recovered.

“[Jen and I] had known of each other, but didn’t know each other well. We grew up on the same street in Antrim,” said Crowell. Clark and Crowell both live on Pleasant Street, approximately a mile away from one another.

“Jen’s parents were looking for help regarding what to do after her injury. I shared my experience with [Jen] and her family,” said Clark.

Clark and Crowell’s relationship has blossomed since Crowell’s injury and the two spend hours together every summer taking advantage of the accessible trails.

“Jen and I can go up the trails alone. It gives us an independent feeling in a beautiful environment,” said Clark.

“Laura and I feel free out on the trails,” added Crowell. “We can wheel side-by-side, talk and relax. We usually make a day out of it, enjoying the sun and hanging out at the summit.”

Clark and Crowell have started Wheelchair Help in Motion, a group that organizes hikes on the accessible trails.

“We had out first annual hike last August and plan to do another June 13 at 2 p.m.,” said Clark. The hike is open to anyone and the group plans to enjoy a picnic at the top of the trails.

Kristin Harris, the director of Crotched Mountain Accessible Recreation and Sports, organizes hikes on the trails and enjoys hiking them herself.

“The trails meet all accessibility standards, allowing people of all abilities to get out and enjoy the woods,” said Harris. “Families with kids in strollers and elderly people frequently use the trails. Lots of people hike these trails without disabilities. People should come enjoy the trails if they haven’t. Its a great hike for anyone.”

One of the organizations that Harris has organized a hike for is RiverMead. Sally Pore, a RiverMead resident who has cerebral palsy, got the opportunity to hike on the trails recently.

“I like the fact that being in the woods usually means you are away from others and in nature. It was great to have had the opportunity to hike both trails. More people should know about these trails, they are really neat,” said Pore.

The Gregg and Dutton Brook trails form the longest accessible trail system in a mountainside setting in the country. The Dutton Brook Trail winds through the woods and around a beaver-built wetland. The Gregg Trail meanders up through a meadow, forest and blueberry fields to a scenic vista called The Knoll. The 2 ½ miles of trails combine multiple features in a consolidated space.

Dylan Fisher can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235, or dfisher@ledgertranscript.com.

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