A wheelchair user poses on a path at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Arizona’s Accessible State Park

LivAbility Magazine

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Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Arizona’s Accessible State Park

By Jennifer Longdon
Photos by Loren Worthington

A power chair user rides along a nature path, surrounded by foliage Fast Facts
-Located an hour’s drive from Phoenix
-Adult admission is $12.50
-Welcomes leashed pets
-Learn more at AzStateParks.com/Boyce-Thompson

The wind slips through towering eucalyptus trees, ruffling leaves. Swaying branches tease the view of Picket Post Mountain and Magma Ridge, spilling dappled light across the path as flowers and shrubs dance to the rhythm of the breeze. Time is irrelevant among the trees. Unseen birds create a multi-layered chorus. Hummingbirds frenetically dart from blossom to blossom, butterflies float lazily alongside them. Visitors nod a warm but silent greeting as they pass by; conversation feels intrusive.

Drive about an hour east from Ability360 Center in Phoenix, and you’ll find the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Named for copper mining magnate William Boyce Thompson who donated the land, this 323-acre ever-changing tableau is an oasis in the desert.

The arboretum consists of a 1.3-mile main trail and several smaller trails that wend through various habitats including a sun-spotted rose garden, eucalyptus forest, cactus garden, herb garden and several exhibits representing deserts around the world.

A wooden suspension bride reaches over a creekParking is free with seven accessible spaces available. Admission is $12.50 for adults and the park is dog-friendly to leashed pets. Additional details, including an event calendar, are available on the park website: azstateparks.com/boyce-thompson.

In the visitors’ center, you can fill your water bottle, join a guided tour, shop for specimen plants for your own garden or browse the gift shop. The path immediately outside the visitors’ center is paved with porous rubberized gravel that feels good under your wheels, provides better traction underfoot and makes the steep path easier to navigate.

Some of the trails are steep and rutted. Still, we were able to get around with a little help. The park has a great layout and you can easily spend 4 hours wandering. At the farthest end of the park, there is wooden suspension bridge across the creek; an ideal spot to stop and take in the view. You’ll also find Ayers Lake at that far end with lots of shade and picnic tables.


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A chairuser and his dog look over a pond, sat behind a rail built along a mountainsideThe arboretum is a photographer’s paradise with scenic panoramas, abundant wildlife and opportunities for macro photography among the thousands of plant specimens from around the world.

Boyce is just another example of what AzSPT has to offer to people with disabilities. On the day of our visit, Ability360 brought 15 consumers to the park as part of its regular Socialization through Recreation program.

If you’re in the area, the Lost Dutchman State Park is located 30 miles to the west. Another nearby treat is the Apache Trail scenic drive which leads to Canyon Lake.

LivAbility values your feedback and experiences. If you’ve visited one of Arizona’s many parks, share your experience with us online or at editor@ability360.org.

Returning to Nature

By Markus Davis
Photos by Loren Worthington

Markus Davis sits at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

I wasn’t born disabled, but through a series of unfortunate events I became paralyzed on the left side of my body. I have a sensory deficit as well.

As an abled-bodied individual I was a rock climber. I hiked regularly and swam an average of 4 miles per day. But a fall from 22 feet and a MVA in 1991 proved to be too much for my body to cope with and everything changed in a flash. I recovered, but with limitations. Then in 2014, a heart attack followed by a stroke left me in a wheelchair.

I never thought that I would be able to enjoy nature again until I received an invitation from Ability360, to take a day trip to Boyce Thompson State Park. I found myself on a guided tour given by a very knowledgeable volunteer staff, wandering trails of profound beauty and seeing awe-inspiring vistas.

Thank you, Livability and Ability360 for showing me that my appreciation and love for nature could still be part of my life again even from a wheelchair. It was an incredible day!


Jennifer Longdon
Writer

Jennifer Longdon is known to drink too much coffee, ask too many questions and then write about it. She has served on numerous Boards and Commissions focused on disability advocacy including the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues, the Statewide Independent Living Council and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Public Impact Panel. Jen has a T-4 spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair full time.

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