By Adrienne Foss, Contributing Writer.
A pre-existing trail surrounding Prescott Field has recently been extended by over half a mile to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act standards and regulations. The highly trafficked trail is used by people all around the community, and the adaptations made will benefit nearly 40% of the Franklin County population according to project organizers.
The High Peaks Alliance is a non-profit organization that played a vital role in the creation of this trail. The organization wanted to know how they could improve the overall accessibility of this piece of land that so many people were already enjoying.
“We realized that there were no accessible trails in all of Franklin County,” Executive Director of the High Peaks Alliance Brent West said. He believes that more people need to get outside and to feel comfortable in the environment they’re in, and having safe and accessible trails is one of the first steps towards meeting that goal. “We hope that the work we do allows for more people to have more opportunities,” West said.
Gina Oswald has worked as a professor in Rehabilitation Services for three years at the University of Maine at Farmington. She has been working for and with people with disabilities for nearly 22 years, and she is always looking for ways to improve general accessibility and to remain inclusive. Oswald has also been a board member of the High Peaks Alliance since 2020 and has since been making extensive contributions to the accessibility aspects of the community. She has worked closely with West to see that this project comes to life. “Being in the field for so long, not only does it keep me passionate about these things, but it keeps me informed about what is and isn’t accessible for all,” Oswald said. “The world is a better place when everybody has the same opportunities and access.”
The ADA trail received funding and grants from multiple organizations in Maine, including the High Peaks Alliance and the Northern Forest Center. The Northern Forest Center provided a $50,000 grant to go towards the project, and the High Peaks Alliance fundraised the rest of the cost. The project added up to a total of $96,000.
The trail now extends from Front Street to the Narrow Gauge parking lot, and it consists of crushed natural and local rock that gives the appearance of smooth pavement. This now provides a safer and more reliable surface for people using a wheelchair, walker, or stroller. There was also a concerted effort to include braille, sign language, and tactile, along with other languages like French and Wabanaki on the informational signs around the trails.
The High Peaks Alliance is constantly seeking additional funding for future projects, and there are big plans for both the Farmington area and Franklin County as a whole.
“We have smaller local goals along with bigger and more grand hopes and dreams,” Oswald said.