“There was a time when I could walk four miles in a pop,” said West Tisbury resident Susan Silk, surrounded by drills, wooden benches, and Allen wrenches. “But eventually I couldn’t do it anymore. I still wanted to walk, but I also needed to take a break.”
Silk decided to take matters into her own feet, and on Saturday a bevy of volunteers, woodworkers, and outdoor enthusiasts gathered at Manuel F. Correllus State Forest in Edgartown to put the finishing touches on their “Take a Break” initiative.
Inspired by Silk and co-sponsored by Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, a total of no less than 80 benches were commissioned and/or purchased as a means to make miles of Island walking trails more accessible — particularly to those with disabilities.
“We thought it was a wonderful idea, and so did the state,” noted Chris Bruno, the Correllus Forest superintendent, who was on hand for the event. “It dovetails perfectly with the story we’re trying to tell: that the forest is here, that it’s open, and that it’s about working together to improve and enjoy this space.”
Indeed, the Take a Break campaign embodied the spirit of cooperation. Islander Doug Ruskin built the first bench, and provided the foundational design. Armed with a prototype, Silk and her legion of walkers enlisted three other local craftsmen, Jack Ensur, Les Goldstein, and Frank Honey, to construct their own benches based on the prototype. Hardwoods from the Island (locust for the legs and catalpa for the seats) were supplied and cut by sawer Tom Turner, and Bill Seabourne, carpentry teacher at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, was soon enlisted in the cause.
“We love doing this stuff,” said Seabourne, whose students crafted four benches of their own and assembled 30 more. (They are also building a storage shed for Hanover House, a pergola for Island Elderly Housing, and a pavilion for Correllus.) “It’s exciting when you’re building stuff not just for a class but for a community. It forces everyone, including myself, to have to raise their game.”
Silk and her associates also had to raise their games, along with nearly $30,000 from an Islandwide fundraising campaign.
“This is a cause that’s universal and relatable,” explained fellow Take a Break board member Thaw Malin. “Whether you’re a person with disabilities or without, not everyone is a professional hiker. Maybe you want to walk a mile or two, but four or five is too much, and so it keeps you in the house. Now there will be benches along many of the Island’s most popular trails. Now, you can take a walk, but you can also take a break if you need to.”
The concept of forest accessibility is not new, but has become a local, state, and national priority for environmentalists and government agencies alike.
“The reason that this event gathered the kind of steam it did is that it lies at the intersection of multiple interests,” said Susan Hughes, development associate at Sheriff’s Meadow, which was founded in 1959 and is the local land trust for the Island. “Here you have government, nonprofit organizations, and citizens coming together to make up the legs — so to speak — of a very compelling event.”
Other conservation interests also reaping rewards from Take a Break include The Trustees of Reservations, Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Land Bank, all beneficiaries of benches to be placed amid their wooded lands and trails.
“All of the benches are equipped with backs and arms,” Silk was sure to add. “These are features important for those with disabilities.”
Benches will begin popping up this spring and summer, except for the final seat of honor, whose resting place remains “TBD” and will be dedicated at a thank-you event on June 1, which also happens to be National Trails Day.
Manuel Correllus Forest is located at 49 Sanderson Rd., Edgartown. For more information or to get involved, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.