Quadriplegic creates Boulder trail guide for people with disabilities

BOULDER, Colo. -- Exploring the many trails Boulder has to offer is how Topher Downham connects with the world around him.

"I love the connection and the solitude you get sometimes,” Downham said. "One of my favorite things is just a stream going by. That trickle, it just calms me."

But just getting to a stream about a quarter mile down the South Boulder Creek Trail is harder for Downham than most people.

His life changed after diving into a swimming pool 20 years ago.

"I ended up smacking my head on the bottom, and breaking two lowest vertebra in the neck,” Townham said.

The quadriplegic has been bound to a wheelchair ever since. He’s lost most feeling in his hands, but still manages to get at least one “roll in” a day, visiting trails most days of the week.

"People are told they can’t do something, and really if you figure out a way, you can do anything,” Downham said.

He started volunteering for Boulder Open Spaces and Mountain Parks, which eventually turned into a full-time gig. His pet project: a guidebook for the trails specifically for people with disabilities.

"Most of them are trails, but there are some sites you can just hang out and picnic,” Downham said.

The guide highlights 30 trails in Boulder, and online they have videos showing the lay of the land. The guide has different tips, pointing out hard spots and which trails are best for shade, and Downham says they’re even putting in more benches to accommodate the elderly. Another feature is offering tours for people with memory loss, to check out different textures, flavors and smells out in natures.

“We're all human and we all have disabilities, and they’re not all obvious, but we all have something we’re not good at, something we need help with,” Downham said.

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