Nature Made Accessible To The Visually Impaired

One of my favorite places in the city is the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center in the city’s almost unfathomably large Memorial Park. Located just barely inside West Loop 610, the Arboretum is a segment of the park which is deliberately kept in a more-or-less untamed state, containing examples of the various kinds of prairie, woodland and bayou ecosystems common in this part of the state.

Palmetto Trail With Guide Ropes

Palmetto Trail - note Guide Ropes for the Visually Impaired

In pursuit of its mission as part of the park, the Arboretum contains rough hiking trails, mostly unpaved but with just enough bridges, stepping stones, boardwalks, etc. to make the walk easy (well, not for me, not now, but for most people). The trails wander for a few miles, spanning woods, bayous, open prairie and such. For Houstonians, having the park and its Arboretum is almost like having a large state park right in the heart of a major city.

(Once in a while, we have to fight legal battles to prevent its being co-opted for a tournament-suitable golf course (the park already contains a respectable conventional public golf course), or by developers (who almost salivate at the prospect of… whatever they would do with it), but the original will granting the property to the city has what I’ve been told is an ironclad provision that if it is used for anything but parkland, the estate reverts to the family’s heirs.)

So… where is this going?

Leadership Houston, a nonprofit engaged in various community projects, is supervising (and doing) work on a trail in the Arboretum aimed specifically at the visually impaired. From a press release email I received:

HOUSTON, TX- Leadership Houston Class XXIX’s new Palmetto Multi-Sensory Trail at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center is currently under construction and will open to the public on June 10, 2011.  The one-third-mile, guided-ropes trail built for the blind and visually-impaired supports personal independence, safety and features lush native flora and fauna that encourage visitors to use their senses of touch, hearing and smell.  Nestled inside the inner-loop sanctuary, the Palmetto Multi-Sensory Trail will host 18 custom-built learning stations displaying descriptive and historical information in Braille and large print complemented by tactile pieces.

This trail will be the first of its kind in the southern United States and is endorsed by the National Federation of the Blind, Houston Council of the Blind, Lighthouse of Houston, Taping for the Blind, Inc., and Texas Parents of Blind Children.

The Palmetto Trail has its own web site, if you wish to track its progress. I look forward to visiting it someday, even if I have to be rolled along it.

Do I live in a cool city, or what?

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