Theodore (Tas) Stoetzner of Boy Scout Troop 354 of Jenison completed his Eagle Scout project by constructing the park system’s first sensory trail in May.
“I chose this project to help kids and families who live with autism enjoy the parks and be outside more. When I was learning about trails, I learned that autistic children sometimes have challenges with senses and decided that I should help them with four stations to help them hear, see, and feel different things in nature,” said Tas.
Recognizing that this trail would need extra attention and upkeep, the Parks Department required Tas to recruit a local organization or business to adopt the trail. Tas connected with Autism Support of West Shore, and they agreed to sign on as Adopt-a-Park volunteers.
“Having sensory trails in parks throughout West Michigan makes parks more accessible,” said Linda Ellenbaas from Autism Support of West Shore. “Many children with autism have sensory challenges, either under or over stimulation, and these trails allow children to engage their senses in a safe, natural setting. Those who seek extra movement like running or extended walks can also utilize the trail, with the added bonus of the sensory input.”
An Adopt-a-Park commitment to Ottawa County Parks requires volunteers to visit a park multiple times throughout a year. Ottawa County Parks is grateful for companies who are able to dedicate the time required to the program. When asked what inspired Autism Support of West Michigan to make the commitment, Ellenbaas said, “Our children are often not successful in what would be considered child-friendly places for play and enjoyment. The Autism Support of West Shore board saw this as an opportunity for children on the spectrum to have a place to go and enjoy the outdoors providing them a unique sensory experience in nature. Autism Support of West Shore is proud to collaborate with Tas and Ottawa County Parks on this unique venture.”
The sensory stations
- At two listening stations, users can identify the local birds and their calls.
- At the walkthrough station, users will walk on pine cones, stones, wood chips, and logs to feel different textures.
- At the manual dexterity station, children can dig and find 15 hidden paving stones, each with different textures.
- The yoga station is intended to help users stretch their bodies and enjoy their surroundings.
Begin at the trailhead closest to the picnic building/lake and follow the loop to intersection 7 to 6 to 3 and end at intersection 2 to see all of the stations.