BELCHERTOWN — Since 2012, the town of Belchertown has been working to develop the land that used to be home to the Belchertown State School into an economic and social hub for the town called the Carriage Grove Development. This has included the demolition of State School buildings and the construction of an assisted living facility, Christopher Heights of Belchertown.
The next step in developing this land will be the construction of the Lake Wallace Sensory Trail, slated to begin at the end of the year. This project will provide community members with a space to enjoy nature, exercise, and connect with one another, said Belchertown Town Planner Doug Albertson.
The trail will serve as the hub for a larger recreation project that the town is working on. “This is only the very first part,” Albertson said. “We want this to be the start of the Belchertown Heritage Trails network throughout the town.”
The stone-dust walking trail will start behind the police station on State St. and go around Lake Wallace to Foley Field, covering about a half mile. Conveniently located less than a mile away from Belchertown’s public schools, the trail will have many features that promote environmental education, such as gathering spaces, interpretive kiosks, learning stations and a dock extending into the lake for ecological research, called a “living laboratory” by Albertson.
The trail will respect the memory of the State School’s residents and staff by including historical markers and areas for reflection in collaboration with the Belchertown Historical Commission. “We want to honor the state school history while providing for the general public,” said Albertson.
In conjunction with the effort to recognize the history of the State School, Members of Team Jessica Inc, a local nonprofit that works to improve the lives of people with disabilities, have been working with the Belchertown Planning Board to ensure the plan for the trail meets the ADA’s Standards for Accessible Design. The interpretive kiosks will be designed for people of all abilities, including those sight-impaired. There will also be resting points and easily accessible parking near trailheads. “We want to connect people through being outdoors and make it available for everyone,” said Albertson.
The project is being funded partially by a matching program with MassDevelopment, the state’s finance and development agency. If community members raise $28,000 by June 30, the project will win a matching grant from MassDevelopment. Currently, $9,000 has been raised. To learn more about the trail or to donate to the project, visit http://www.patronicity.com/LakeWallaceSensoryTrail.