Adaptive cycling taking a spin on the Blackstone River Bikeway

Adaptive cycling taking a spin on the Blackstone River Bikeway

Blackstone Heritage Corridor’s Acting Executive Director Devon Kurtz (rear) pedals an adaptive bicycle equipped with a front wheelchair with Kathryn Parent (front), MA DCR Visitor Services Supervisor at Blackstone River & Canal Heritage State Park, as a passenger during training with All Out Adventures. Both will be on hand to provide support during a June 5 adaptive cycling event at the Blackstone River Greenway.

BLACKSTONE – On Tuesday, June 5, the Blackstone River and its accompanying forests, marshlands and bikeway will become open to all as the Blackstone Heritage Corridor and the Blackstone River Bikeway Ambassadors partner with Northampton’s All Out Adventures to bring adaptive cycling to the Blackstone Valley.

Adaptive cycling incorporates the use of recumbent tricycles, tandem cycles and other accessible cycling equipment to enable adults with physical disabilities to ride the trails as any other active nature-lover would do. According to Karen Foster, executive director of All Out Adventures, many adaptive cycles allow individuals to ride along with a friend, making adaptive cycling a suitable outdoor activity for almost anyone.

“What I always want to tell people is you can do it. We have bikes that can accommodate people of all ages and all body types and all abilities,” she said.

The Northampton-based nonprofit is dedicated to promoting outdoor activities for people with disabilities and runs regular adaptive cycling programs, along with accessible kayaking, skiing and camping, throughout central Massachusetts. Due to funding and staff limitations, the organization rarely brings adaptive cycling to the Blackstone Valley, limiting its activities in the area to kayaking on Lake Quinsigamond and cross-country skiing and hiking at River Bend Farm.

Then, last fall, Margaret Carroll, a 92-year-old Millville resident and longtime volunteer with the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, expressed her wish to ride on the newly opened section of bikeway between Blackstone and Uxbridge. Blackstone Heritage Corridor employees reached out to the Department of Conservation and Recreation Universal Access Program who in turn reached out to All Out Adventures about making Carroll’s wish come true. Last Oct. 12, with the assistance of staff and equipment from All Out Adventures, Carroll rode the 3.7-mile segment between Canal Street and Adams Street in Uxbridge. It was then that members of both organizations began discussing ways to bring adaptive cycling to the public.

“People were calling our office asking, how do I get my grandfather to experience it? How about my child that has mobility issues?” said Suzanne Buchanan, volunteer coordinator for the Blackstone Heritage Corridor. “We took all that information and we shared that with All Out Adventures, and All Out Adventures was able to secure a mini grant from the Greater Worcester Community Foundation.”

On June 5, the organizations will partner to host the first adaptive cycling event open to the public on the Blackstone River Bikeway. Pre-registered participants will be fitted for an adaptive cycle at the Canal Street parking lot and enjoy a guided cycling experience with trained staff and volunteers. In addition to staff from All Out Adventures, the BHC and the DCR Universal Access Program, volunteers from the Bikeway Ambassadors Program will be on hand to assist people with the equipment and take individuals out for rides.

The members of the BHC-organized volunteer group are committed to bringing adaptive cycling to the bikeway, and not only for this one event. A few weeks ago, 13 Bikeway Ambassadors traveled to Northampton to receive special training on the adaptive cycling equipment. According to Foster, the training also included a workshop on interacting with individuals with disabilities in keeping with the organization’s mission of empowering people with disabilities to experience the outdoors.

“Our very first thing that we talk about, we call it disability etiquette,” explained Foster. “There can be a tendency to sort of want to be protective of people or maybe talk down to them a little bit or remove any right to risk. We set up the program in a way that minimizes risk. Once we’ve met that, it’s very important to us that people who have disabilities are seen as individuals in charge of their own lives.”

At the June 5 event, Foster said, participants will be free to go at their own pace within predetermined time slots and work one-on-one with volunteers. While the organization never pressures anyone to challenge themselves if they’re not comfortable, she told The Breeze she’s pretty sure most people will enjoy the new experience.

“We believe so much in what we’re doing, and we believe it changes lives, so we want to be able to offer this to as many people as we reasonably can,” she said.

According to Buchanan, the event has received an overwhelmingly positive response from the community, with many people, including a group of students from Scituate Middle School, already signed up to ride. The organization is also grateful for the support it’s received from the community, in particular the donation of an accessible portable toilet courtesy of ADC Septic of Blackstone.

“It’s the little things that count. We all need to be comfortable before we hit the road bicycling, right?” she said.

While the future of adaptive cycling on the Blackstone remains to be seen, Buchanan hopes the organizations can secure additional funding to turn the event into a regular program. Bikeway Ambassadors, she said, are standing by to work with future groups, and soon, two-wheeled bicycles might not be the only vehicles zooming around on guided tours of the bikeway.

“Folks that have always wanted to explore the beauty of the Blackstone Bikeway, but had physical limitations that prevented them from doing so, now they have a chance to experience it,” she said.

Anyone interested in the adaptive cycling event can sign up by calling All Out Adventures at 413-584-2052. Advance registration is required.