The Story of Angela's Trail
By Maggie Stoudnour, current RTA Board Member and past Rivendell Trail School Programs Coordinator
When I was hired by the Rivendell Interstate School District in 2015 to take on the role of School Trail Programs Coordinator at Samuel Morey and Westshire Elementary Schools, I was excited. Before moving with my (then) young family to Vermont, I had served as the Education Manager for a coastal conservation non-profit in Northern California. When we moved to Fairlee, VT in 2011, I took a break from working for a while to care for our two tiny children. I was thrilled to finally be able to get back to doing my very favorite thing for a living: taking groups of children outside to spark their love of and curiosity about the natural world.
But even as I was accepting this position, something was troubling me. I knew that my own son, Griffin, who was six years old at the time and in Kindergarten, would likely be unable to participate in Rivendell Trails field trips. About a year prior, my family was rocked by an unexpected and devastating diagnosis: Griffin had a progressive muscle wasting condition called muscular dystrophy. He would slowly lose strength, and we could expect him to be a full time wheelchair user by his teens. He wouldn’t have the strength for hiking long and winding trails through the woods.
As he moved through the grades at Westshire Elementary School, we came up with short-term solutions. My husband and my dad both took turns carrying him up all of the hills on the annual All School Hikes (photo above is of Griffin and his dad with some classmates on an All School Hike in 2nd grade). I rearranged some field trips so that he didn’t have to walk as far down the trail. Sometimes we would drive him to a closer trailhead to meet the class, or pull him in a wagon, or drive him in a golf cart. Griffin loves nature and being in the woods, and missing out on these field trips was simply not an option. We made it happen. But always in the back of my mind was the fact that none of this was sustainable. My son was not the only student with mobility challenges in the school district, and he certainly wouldn’t be the last. It felt increasingly unacceptable to me that there were students who had to stay at school while the rest of the class went to spend the day learning in the woods.
One day, early on in my time as Trails Coordinator, I visited Samuel Morey Elementary School to bring a class out to explore nature in the school yard. The focus of our adventure was “five senses.” One of the students was a girl in a wheelchair named Angela (pictured below). Angela delighted in the breeze tickling her blonde hair, the sound of the wind in the leaves, and the feel of the warm sun on her face. The sweetness of her nature, and her love of nature, were evident. I realized I had never met Angela before because she couldn’t come on any of the Trails trips. Sadly, this was the only time I had Angela as one of my students of nature. She passed away later that year.
I can pinpoint the day I met Angela as the day that the seed of an idea planted itself in my brain. I wanted a part of the trail where I could always bring ALL students. There needed to be a section of trail that was wheelchair accessible. However, I had no idea how to go about doing this, and the idea languished in my mind for quite some time as I struggled to determine the first steps. I finally decided to write a grant for the project and see what might come of it. As I prepared to write the grant, I asked Angela’s parents if we could name the project in her memory. They said yes, and Angela’s Trail was born. Here is an excerpt from the support letter Angela’s mom, Melinda, wrote:
“During Angela’s first few years, we got out much the way any family does, hiking and camping on local trails and in the backyard. While she was small, I could carry her --and she made it up Mt. Cardigan with us for several years as her older brother and sister did the annual All-school Hike with their Rivendell classes. But as she grew and still could not walk on her own, getting out became much harder. Most wheelchairs and walkers do not do well on grass, dirt roads, or trails filled with rocks and roots. Our access to the trails and hidden places in our land narrowed sharply. Creating accessible trails is difficult and time-consuming, but their existence is such a gift to those living with physical limitations. Being able to get out into the middle of the woods is a balm to the soul. Angela died in 2015 and we treasure our memories of her. She was a part of the Rivendell school system for 8 years and many of her classmates remember her and their love for her. The idea that this trail would be named after her to stir their memories and experiences brings me great delight.”
In the spring of 2020, Rivendell Trails Association, under the umbrella of the Rivendell Interstate School District, was awarded a grant from the New Hampshire Recreational Trails Program for the construction of Angela’s Trail. And now, in the fall of 2021, I am very proud and excited to announce that after the hard work and dedication of quite a few people, the mile long section of trail between Rivendell Academy and Townshed Road is now wheelchair accessible.
Angela’s Trail is quite literally a dream come true for me. This project, that lived for so long in the recesses of my mind, something I wasn’t sure would ever move into the realm of the real world, is almost complete. Special thanks to Palisade Projects and Upper Valley Trails Alliance for bringing Angela’s Trail into physical existence. My family and I went out to walk this new trail yesterday, and I almost couldn’t believe it. It is REAL! You can go see it for yourself.
Speaking of you, here is the part where you come in. We need about $5,000 more to put the finishing touches on Angela’s Trail. We need signage, and we need to reinforce certain segments of the trail to make it fully ADA compliant. And now that this project (with your help) is nearing completion, I have my eye on a few other sections of trail that with a little TLC could also be accessible. Please consider a donation to support Angela’s Trail and the continuing project of increasing accessibility on the CRT. On behalf of all current and future RISD students (and forest-loving community members) with mobility challenges, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your contribution is a true treasure.
Pictured below are Griffin and his dad checking it out. At almost 13, Griffin is doing great. As you can see, he is still walking, although he uses a mobility scooter for distance.
A word of warning: Angela's Trail is open, but it still needs the winter for the surface to settle and harden. It may still be a bit too soft for some mobility equipment, so please use caution if you venture out before the spring. Happy trails!