Today we're honored to introduce Hawk Mountain Hero Dr. Cyrus Klingsberg, whose generosity of spirit and financial resources made the vision of an accessible trail go from concept to reality.
A retired senior scientist at the Department of Energy, Cyrus has published dozens of articles and lectured abroad, but during his downtime, he and his late wife Vera enjoyed nature and the movement of birds. The two were long-time Hawk Mountain members.
“Vera was the ‘real’ birder,” he laughs, and while her favorite species may have been the tiny chickadee, she also loved to monitor the southbound movement of raptors. That is, until mobility issues held her back and left her sitting inside the Visitor Center.
“That’s when I became her eyes,” says Cyrus.
“I would visit the Lookout, make observations, and then report back to her what I’d seen and heard. I always wished she could have joined me.”
After her death, Cyrus learned about the idea of an accessible trail that connected visitors to the South Lookout and wished that such a trail had been available for his wife.
“Accessibility is such an obvious need,” he said at the time. “An accessible trail would open the Sanctuary to a whole group of people,” he added. People like Vera.
A year later, Hawk Mountain opened its first accessible pathway since its founding in 1934. The grand opening was held July 26, 2015, on the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Joining Cyrus in funding this project were the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Berks County Commissioners through the Community Development Block Grant Program, the Schuylkill County Commissioners, and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. Alfred A. Douglass III and Family also provided funds to upgrade the Laurelwood Niche as an accessible outdoor learning space.
But it was Cyrus who launched the campaign, put plans on the fast-track, and essentially sealed the deal.
The 900-foot-long trail is wide enough to allow for two wheelchairs to pass one another and bends in a wide, graceful arc through the forest at a grade that does not exceed 8.3%, keeping the slope below the federal guidelines for national parks. Other enhancements include benches for rest every 100 feet, accessible trail-side restrooms, upgrades to the Laurelwood Niche outdoor classroom, and improvements at the South Lookout viewing platform.
In 2016, the trail was renamed the Silhouette Trail to match the trail-side gallery of life-size, in-flight raptor silhouettes. A brochure describing each is available at the trail entrance, and the exhibit changes twice a year.
The following year, the Sanctuary received the International Trail Accessibility Award during the annual International Trails Symposium held every other May. The award recognizes a trail project that successfully integrates accessibly into its design and construction.
Accolades aside, there’s no doubt that the trail has connected more people than ever before with nature, which was always the overarching goal. For Cyrus, though, it was always about Vera.
“I’m glad that I am able to support the work of Hawk Mountain in a way that lets me honor the memory of my wife at the same time,” he says.