LENOX -- All summer many hands took part in building an ideal: The first place in all the county's beautiful woods that welcomes everyone. Where nobody -- regardless of impairment -- is barred from taking in the offerings.
Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary celebrated the grand opening of such a place Saturday. The All Persons' Trail, which first opened in 2004, can now accommodate the blind as well as people who use wheelchairs.
Audio and Braille guides have been created that describe what walkers might see and hear along 1,700-foot jaunt, which spans an evergreen grove and ends up at Pike's Pond. Hand-held audio players pipe the voice of sanctuary employee Bob Shepherd, whose observations concentrate on 11 "interpretive stops."
With the afternoon weather holding out, the Berkshires' first "sensory trail" enjoyed tens of visitors. Sanctuary Director Rene Laubach called it an "auspicious moment."
"We're really happy to be opening up the trail to another segment of the population," Laubach said. "That's what this is all about -- getting more people out in nature."
That population, said Ronald Gallagher, director of the state Commission for the Blind, consists of more than 30,000 Massachusetts residents and 3,000 Western Massachusetts residents who are visually impaired. Twenty percent of these are totally blind, Gallagher said.
According to Gallagher, Pleasant Valley's trail becomes one of only 12 other universal access, sensory trails in the state. He said the Massachusetts Audubon Society seeks to encourage more to be developed.
"The Mass Audubon Society has worked very hard to increase accessibility and spread awareness, and they are contributing to a truth that should be acknowledged, and one they can be very proud of -- that consideration of all citizens of the commonwealth should and can be taken into account," Gallagher said.
Three local 17-year-olds played an integral role in building the trail's new features. They were Keenan Provencher of Pittsfield, Kara Curtin of Lee and Ellen Ross of Dalton. Set to work by a Coolidge Hill Foundation grant, the three chose and researched items -- a turtle shell, beaver pelt, tree bark, acorns and more -- for a "touch table" to be included along the trail.
"It was really great working environment," Provencher said.
Himself blind, Provencher can write and said he's presently working on labels for each of the table's items.
"We couldn't be happier with the way this turned out," said Gayle Tardif-Raser, education coordinator at the sanctuary. "We want to get the information out to the community that this resource is here."
Before Saturday's opening, Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Northampton contained the sensory trail nearest to the Berkshires.
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