Chelsea Fernandes steered her wheelchair up and down the forest trail, passing a maple grove, zigzagging over water along a narrow boardwalk, and stopping to look at a beaver-built wetland — a view she never thought she'd experience from her wheelchair.
Considered unique by the U.S. Forest Service for offering the disabled unparalleled access to mountain wilderness, the 2 1/2 miles of trails at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in southern New Hampshire will open to the public Friday.
"It allows me to be like everybody else, to experience nature like everybody else," said the 22-year-old, who was born with cerebral palsy. "It allows me to experience life in whole different light and it allows me to get away from my day-to-day routine. And it kind of helps me relax when times get stressful."
The center's trails offer climbs, twists and turns, and lush views of hillsides and mountains. They were designed with the goal of easy access to people of all abilities, including people in wheelchairs and those who have difficulty walking.
One trail goes through the woods and the other through a meadow; they are the longest of their type in a mountain setting and they combine multiple features — steep terrain, bridges and boardwalks, places to rest — in a consolidated space. Hikers can see blueberry fields, wildflowers, and the occasional moose.
"It doesn't scream accessibility, and yet, it is," said Janet Zeller of the Forest Service, which has developed a set of…
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