Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Sensory Trail for the visually impaired: A treat for the senses!

While walking down the Sensory Trail for the visually impaired at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, a visitor can listen to the delicate scamper of a chipmunk harmonize with melodic birdcalls.

Woven fibers of the rope railing, installed so someone without sight can follow it on their own, tickle your palm. An aroma of sweet wild flowers laced with rustic pine surround the visitor.

On May 29 the Sensory Trail opened at Mass Audubon’s Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary and Bristol Blake State Reservation in Norfolk. The Sensory trail is a self-guided post and rope nature path, designed for the enjoyment of people without sight or impaired vision.

In attendance at the grand opening were Senator Scott Brown and State Representative Richard Ross. The trail is a product of the collaborative effort between Mass Audubon, the Commonwealth’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Perkins School for the Blind, visually impaired consultant Jerry Berrier and local Lions’ Clubs. Employees from Timberland laid down the stone dust on the trail while Eagle Scouts from Troop 61 assisted in the post installation. Doug Williams, Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary director, joined the project about a year ago and served as a catalyst in getting the trail finished.

The trail treats each sense to its own wildlife exploration. “The Sensory Trail not only provides an opportunity for the visually impaired to experience nature by themselves if they care to, it also provides context for each of us to understand nature more carefully by using all of our senses,” said Mass Audubon President Laura Johnson at the dedication. “Mass Audubon hopes that every individual who traverses this accessible trail will be inspired by the fascinating natural wonders that surround us daily.”

Replacing the grown-over “Trail for the Blind” at Stony Brook, the Sensory Trail is meticulously planned. Before beginning the adventure, Sensory Trail guidebooks are available in round top brail, large print text or an audio version at the Nature Center on the top of the trail. With a rope to the right of the path directing the way, the wide compacted stone dust path travels along a gradual slope for 300 feet. Along the rope there are round wooden floats indicating an area where the visitor can pause and experience nature in a new way.

He or she can feel the soft, wispy bark of gray birch or hear the water spilling over the dam into the Stony Brook Pond. When the rope bears a square float, it is a signal that a bench is available at the opposite side of the trail. The path then levels out at a fifteen-foot bridge where the guide rope switches to the left side. Accompanied by the scent of pine tress, the visitor continues through the trail in the knoll and enters a boardwalk that ends at a deck with a view of the intricate ecosystem of the Teal Marsh and Kingfisher pond.

The independence the trail grants to the visually impaired is profound, said Doug Williams. By providing the rope and post system and brail on the guidebook and station signs, a blind person could stroll down the trail by himself or herself if desired. Jerry Berrier, a birdcall enthusiast, is the voice on the audio guide for the trail and also happens to be visually impaired.

“I’m really excited about the trail,” said Berrier, “Its a trail that can be enjoyed by the broadest possible amount of people. If I lived closer, I’d go all the time.” Berrier loves the scent present at the trail and listening to the sounds of the diverse habitat, he said. Berrier celebrates the fact he can now enjoy the organic music produced by the birds without having to bring someone else along who does not share the same interest, said Williams.

“DCR has long been in the forefront of providing accessible facilities and programs that allow people of all abilities to enjoy outdoor recreation experiences in our Massachusetts state parks,” said DCR Commissioner Richard K. Sullivan Jr. “This new Sensory Trail offers a wonderful opportunity for people with limited vision to experience the outdoors in a meaningful and rewarding way. DCR is very proud to have been a partner in this project.”


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