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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Wheelchair-Friendly Path

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Julia King remarks on the nature path in her native Indiana and how pavement has changed the landscape in unimagined ways.


CURWOOD: There may not be any wilderness left in Indiana, but there are some lovely wild and natural places. And when commentator Julia King heard that a favorite trail in her hometown was going to be paved over for a bike path, she felt an impulsive sense of loss.

KING: I've walked along the canal a thousand times. Bicycle tires have formed long, skinny grooves in the narrow dirt trail. Roots protrude from the ground and holes masquerade as shadows in an apparent attempt to trip the careless and carefree. But not for long. When my city's park department announced that they were planning to pave one of the area's few dirt footpaths, I winced. Pavement is not progress! I moaned to those who would listen. The smooth isn't inherently superior to the bumpy, I insisted. Considering Indiana's rather unspectacular geography, it seems Hoosiers would welcome even the hint of topographic variation that a worn and weathered path can offer. But the pavement proponents say that the new walkway will draw more people. They say this is a good thing. I say that those who are attracted to cement should hop in the car and head for a city sidewalk or the shopping mall, but leave me the dangerous life. Let me risk a twisted ankle. This was my battle cry.

Then the following week the work began. Heavy trucks and machinery made their way into the neighborhood. The water disappeared from the canal. Bulldozers scraped away the scouring rushes and wildflowers that grew beside the path on the banks of the canal. It was just as I had feared. And for what? Roller bladers? My only solace was being right. How I love to be right.

The destruction still fresh, a few of us headed out to explore. My little girl bounced happily as I pushed her stroller along the rugged trail. I breathed in the smell of turned soil. Soon the scent would be of tar and concrete. So goes the senseless manipulation of nature. Then, just up ahead, I saw the wheels. Not roller blades, or bicycles, or skateboards, but wheelchairs. The electric chairs hummed and beeped as they made their way over the uneven ground. We quickly gained on and passed the man and woman as they navigated the surface with intense concentration.

A few minutes later, as my daughter stretched her little legs chasing bugs and collecting dandelions, the man in the wheelchair pulled up behind us and stopped. He adjusted velcro straps around his torso. He inhaled and sighed deeply. He looked me straight in the eye. "That's rough back there," he said with a seriousness I couldn't really understand. "Yeah," I nodded. "But it won't be for long." Pavement, as it turns out, is a lot more complicated than I thought.

CURWOOD: Commentator Julia King lives in Goshen, Indiana. She comes to us through the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.



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