Nature Trail Developed for Visually Impaired

The visually impaired will soon have a new way to experience Houston's natural environment. Crews at the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center are wrapping up work on the Palmetto Multisensory Trail. The trail gives visitors with limited or no eyesight the chance to learn about nature in a hands-on way. Gail Delaughter reports.

Between Memorial Park and the 610 West Loop, the Houston Arboretum has five miles of trails through its 155-acre preserve.  The trails wander through forests, ravines, and meadows, and past wetlands and waterways. They give visitors a glimpse  of what Houston looked like before it became a city.  Now visitors with limited or no vision can have the same experience along the new Palmetto Multisensory Trail.  Arboretum Executive Director Debbie Markey says information stations will  allow visitors to experience the landscape through sound, smell,   and touch.  The first station along the trail describes a small hill known as a "pimple mound."

"What the station describes is you'll notice you come upon a hill.  You feel it as you're coming up and you wonder what it is. And so this is a description of what you're able to do. And inside the touch box will be an armadillo shell. You should be able to feel the shape of it."

The one-third mile multisensory trail was modeled after a similar trail in Massachusetts.   It will be the only one of its kind in the region. 

Markey says it's designed so  visually impaired people  can walk it on their own. Walkers are guided by ropes connected to polls alongside the trail.

 Information stations have text in  braille and large print.  Audio recordings will also be available. Visitors can do things like touch the roots of a large tree that fell during Hurricane Ike.  They can also listen for different bird sounds and smell flowers and leaves. 

"I think it will give them an opportunity on a nice day to come out and enjoy nature and hear the sounds, to be able to come be a part of the inner city, which is amazing that we have the grounds here." 

The Palmetto Multisensory Trail is a project of this year's class of Leadership Houston, a  year-long training program for business and nonprofit  leaders. 

Class member Renee Griffin says they designed the trail with input from local organizations that serve the visually impaired.  Class members did the physical work in building the trail.  They also raised  about 70-thousand dollars for construction and maintenance.

"We really feel that, as a class,  that this sustainable project is a tremendous asset to the quality of life in Houston, as a result of the design and the structure of this trail, having such a targeted intention."

Sighted visitors are also invited to use the trail.  When it opens June 10, people will have the chance to use blindfolds so they can experience the Arboretum like they never have before.   To see photos of the trail you can go to our website kuhf.org.

Bio photo of Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

Gail Delaughter joined KUHF in October 2008 as Saturday morning news anchor and host. A native of New Orleans and a graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University, Gail has extensive experience in Texas and Louisiana as a radio news reporter and morning show anchor and co-host...