Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mass Audubon Introduces Sensory Trails

A post and wire guide system allows blind visitors to access
nature at Stony Brook Sanctuary in Norfolk.
Interpretive nature trail designers are increasingly aware that it is vital to include all of the senses - sight, sound, taste, olfactory and tactile - in planning self-guided educational trail experiences for visitors. By doing so, trail users of all ages are more likely to engage with nature and retain what they've learned. Experiential learning also tends to be more enjoyable for everyone. For trail users who are blind or have partial sight, drawing upon non-visual elements and designing for navigation is key to providing an experience that can be fully appreciated.

Tactle stopping points introduce signage in Braille and large
print that identify trail features and introduce
educational opportunities.
Sometimes referred to as Sensory Trails, trails designed with people with visual impairments in mind are on the rise. In Massachusetts, the Buttonbush Trail at the Cape Cod National Seashore has been one of the few public options available to state residents. The Massachusetts Audubon Society is coming to the rescue with a new grant project to enhance their ten All-Person's Trails around the state with audio tours, Braille signage, and tactile maps that highlight sensory features. Examples may include comparison of tree barks, bird songs, and fragrant plants in the vicinity. I'm delighted to be part of the team working on this project!

Two sensory trail projects have been completed to date, at Broadmoor Sanctuary in Natick and Stony Brook Sanctuary in Norfolk. People with visual impairments, as part of the general public in eastern Massachusetts, can now experience different sensory trail options. The trail at Stony Brook offers a good possibility for an independent trail experience, with a post and guide wire navigational system. I've enjoyed both trails, which travel into wetland areas and offer a refreshing way to experience the outdoors at a slower pace.

Boardwalks with railings offer easy navigation into wetlands.
Over the next three years, Mass Audubon will add sensory trails at Arcadia Sanctuary in Easthampton, Attleboro Springs in Attleboro, Pleasant Valley in Lenox, Broad Meadow Brook in Worcester, Trailside Museum in Milton, Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, and the Boston Nature Center in Mattapan. Since these trails are already wheelchair accessible, they are well worth visiting to explore the varied habitats around Massachusetts, so by all means, go on your own! Mass Audubon is looking for feedback to, so if you'd like to be involved in helping evaluate existing trails and develop new ones, please contact Lucy Gertz at

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