Fort River Birding and Nature Trail

The Fort River Birding and Nature Trail is a universally accessible trail that provides equal access and equal opportunities for all people to spend quality time outdoors and enjoy the natural world. The trail functions as an “outdoor visitor center”, connecting people to nature by immersing them in diverse habitats from grasslands, riparian areas and upland forests. The trail is located in the midst of a lively “Five College Consortium”, and is used as an educational and experiential learning platform for students at all levels of learning. At the same time the trail is frequented by senior citizens and those with mobility challenges, who enjoy the tranquility of the outdoors.

photo: Forested section of the trail

Length: 1.10 miles
Loop Trail? Yes
Type: Nature Trail, Snow Trail
Allowed Uses: Dogs - On leash
Fishing
Pedestrian - Walking/Hiking/Running
Snow - Cross-country Skiing
Wildlife Observation
Agency: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Entry Fee? No
Parking Fee? No

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Location: The trail is located in Hadley, Massachusetts, at the Fort River Division of the Silvio O Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.
State(s): Massachusetts
Counties: Hampshire
Longitude: -72.565363
Latitude: 42.340314

Driving Directions

From Interstate 91 take Route 9 East. Take a right onto South Maple Street, then a right onto Moody Bridge Road. The entrance to the refuge is one half mile down, on the right, at 69 Moody Bridge Road.

Description

Background and vision
The Fort River Birding and Nature Trail is a multi-functioning, universally accessible trail that provides quality access to all, meeting Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) Accessibility standards and supporting the intent of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, and the Silvio O. Conte NFWR Act of 1991. Located in Western Massachusetts, the trail is intended to be used as an “outdoor visitor center” and an outdoor classroom for both guided and self-guided educational experiences.

Construction through teamwork
The trail was laid out and designed by Refuge employees in 2011/2012, with construction beginning in 2013. Construction of the trail is an example of teamwork at its best. Youth Conservation Corps, Student Conservation Association Interns, community volunteers of all ages and abilities, Boys and Girl Scout Troops and Northeast Region Service employees all played a role in building or laying out a bulk of the trail construction. The trail is designed with lots of curves throughout the habitats to keep the visitor wondering what might be around the next bend. We built the trail bends using gravel, stone dust, and trail ties to retain the flexible pressure treated wood at a five foot width. For the tougher bends, it was necessary to soak the wood overnight to increase their flexibility.

The project was an important learning experience for many of the young people involved, who were being trained to use many of the tools for the first time. Today, we still use members from these groups to help maintain the trail, the surrounding habitat and provide educational programs.

Highlights and main features
In 2014 the trail was presented with the Paul Winske Access Award by the Stavros Center for Independent Living. The fully accessible trail fills a niche that not only meets ABA and American's with Disabilities ACT (ADA) requirements, but provides opportunities for families with strollers, groups of young children and an aging population to enjoy the outdoors. Specific examples of accessible accommodations is the low, flat grade of the trail, the easily passable boardwalk and trail materials, benches placed along the trail (at 50 to 150 yard intervals) for visitors to rest, two covered overlooks to protect visitors from sun or rain, mile markers at each tenth of mile to help orient visitors and navigate the trail, and a two inch continuous wooden edge on the trail sides to help guide the visually impaired and those in wheelchairs. An accessible restroom is located in the parking lot to accommodate visitors’ needs.

The aesthetic value of the trail is also a highlighted feature. The trail is designed for “clockwise” travel, meandering through a variety of successional habitats from grassland and shrubland, to lowland floodplain, and upland forested areas. It is designed to resemble a ribbon as it passes through these diverse habitats, enhancing the visitor’s experience. The winding of the trail allows visitors to continually see nature in front of them, while also creating a curiosity about what’s beyond the next bend. Several of the trail walkways were specifically designed to allow the passage of the state listed wood turtle, and other small animals that need access to critical habitat.

One overlook on the trail presents a view of the Holyoke Mountain Range, which is one of only two east to west mountain ranges on the entire east coast. The location of this overlook affords visitors beautiful vistas, with opportunities for wildlife observation, photography, and artwork. As with this overlook, all the trail overlooks provide visitors an opportunity to be immersed in nature, with the solitude to engage their senses in an outdoor setting.

In designing the trail, not only did we make it accessible for people, we also made is “accessible” for wildlife. We placed small animal “escape hatches” at frequent intervals along the lipped edge to allow small toads, snakes and turtles to escape the path and avoid predators.

Another positive ecological design of the trail is the fact that it is built on top of the ground, using a combination of wooden pads rather than digging holes in the ground. The purpose of this design is to preserve Native American artifacts that may be hidden beneath the soil.

Partnerships and supporting urban communities
The Fort River Birding and Nature Trail is used by a diverse group of community members for a variety of reasons. Through our Urban Refuge Partnership with Springfield, Massachusetts, students from Springfield schools take field trips to the trail for outdoor educational experiences. We also support the Service’s national partnership with Girls, Inc. providing programs on the trail for Girls, Inc, of Holyoke during the summer months.

We are in the process of designing and installing "Storybook" interpretive panels along the trail that will provide an interactive and educational activity for visitors.

A Friends group has developed in support of the trail and the Division, to help with offering interpretive and educational programs to the public, habitat improvements around the trail, and maintenance of the trail. This trail has sparked an interest in the outdoors for some community members and engaged them to help maintain and protect open spaces and the wildlife that inhabit them.

Management direction
Since its official opening in October 2014, use of the trail has steadily increased with an estimated visitation of 20,000 a year, and growing. We continue to maintain the accessible integrity of the trail, as well as manage the habitats surrounding the trail for quality wildlife viewing and outdoor recreation experiences.

The Refuge is in the process of finalizing its 15 year Comprehensive Conservation Plan, which calls for us to work with all communities, school systems, public and non-profit organizations, and private educational organizations to facilitate and develop quality environmental education curricula, as well as to train individuals to conduct quality environmental education. Within 5 years of the CCP approval we will develop an evaluation system to assess the effectiveness of all environmental education curricula.

We appreciate your thought and consideration on designating the Fort River Birding and Nature Trail as National Recreational Trail.



Additional Details

Width: 60 inches.
Primary Surface: Crushed Rock
Secondary Surface: Boardwalk
Wood, running plank

Maximum Grade: 7%
Elevation Low Point: 121
Elevation High Point: 138
Elevation Gain (cumulative): Not Available

Year Designated:
2018

Supporting Webpages and Documents

Website: Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge

Contact Information

For more information and current conditions, contact the trail manager (listed below). For questions, suggestions, and corrections to information listed on the website, contact American Trails.

Public Contact:
Andrew French
Silvio O. Conte NFWR Complex Manager
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
103 East Plumtree Road
Sunderland , MA 01375
(413) 548-8002 x8111
Andrew_French@fws.gov

 

Photos

Entrance sign to the Fort River National Wildlife Refuge and Birding and Nature Trail.

Entrance sign to the Fort River National Wildlife Refuge and Birding and Nature Trail.

One of two shaded overlooks on the Fort River Birding and Nature Trail.

One of two shaded overlooks on the Fort River Birding and Nature Trail.

 

Critter escapes are placed frequently along the trail to keep small animals from getting trapped on the trail.

Critter escapes are placed frequently along the trail to keep small animals from getting trapped on the trail.

One of many accessible benches located along the trail and at the overlooks.

One of many accessible benches located along the trail and at the overlooks.

 

Refuge manager Andrew French gives a tour of the Fort River Birding and Nature Trail.

Refuge manager Andrew French gives a tour of the Fort River Birding and Nature Trail.

A group of students explore the world of macro-invertebrates while on a field trip to the Fort River Trail.

A group of students explore the world of macro-invertebrates while on a field trip to the Fort River Trail.

 

A group of high school students are visiting the trail as part of the Urban Refuge Partnership in Springfield, Mass

A group of high school students are visiting the trail as part of the Urban Refuge Partnership in Springfield, Mass

Visitors on the trail pose with the Refuge manager at the grassland overlook, which provides views of the Mount Holyoke Range, one of two east/west mountain ranges in the Northeast.

Visitors on the trail pose with the Refuge manager at the grassland overlook, which provides views of the Mount Holyoke Range, one of two east/west mountain ranges in the Northeast.

 

Accessible parking spaces are provided at the head of the Fort River Trail.

Accessible parking spaces are provided at the head of the Fort River Trail.

An accessible restroom is provided at the trail head.

An accessible restroom is provided at the trail head.

 

The elevated boardwalk helps to keep the ecological integrity of the wildlife and habitat that surrounds the trail.

The elevated boardwalk helps to keep the ecological integrity of the wildlife and habitat that surrounds the trail.

A section of the trail leading through the woods.

A section of the trail leading through the woods.

 

Visitors will enjoy a variety of habitats as they walk through the trail, including this successional habitat.

Visitors will enjoy a variety of habitats as they walk through the trail, including this successional habitat.

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