Sky Meadows State Park’s new Sensory Explorers’ Trail in Delaplane is only three-tenths of a mile, but for blind or hearing-impaired visitors, it presents a whole new world. The walk in the woods comes complete with an audio app for guidance; a printed version is available for the hearing impaired.

The gentle slope of the trail is easily navigable for anyone. The area in front of each informational maker is paved, so that someone with a cane can detect where they can stop to learn more. Chief Ranger Kevin Bowman said the edges of the trail are delineated carefully. He explained, “Those who can’t see need to know exactly where the trail is.” Each marker has a number in braille, so that blind visitors can match up the markers with the right audio segment on the app.

A description of the trail provided by park representatives reads, “Crossing from a forested hillside through a seasonal wetland, walkers on the trail explore billion-year-old geology, delve into the complex songs of birds in both forest and field habitats, and learn about the critical nature of vernal pools to the sustainability of many amphibian species. They explore tree species and how they communicate, discover forest succession, connect with early settlements in the area and much more.”

On one of the boardwalks, life-like 3-D clay figures of Sky Meadows’ common frogs and salamanders are built into the railings. Artist Don Heath said he created the replicas with the help of Hannah Bement, who shared dozens of photos and explained to him how salamanders move, so he could understand how to sculpt them. 

Bement is an environmental scientist with a particular fondness for salamanders. “Fondness” is probably putting it too mildly; it may be closer to an obsession. Bement is a science teacher at Mountain Vista Governor’s School in Warrenton and Middletown.

A Virginia Master Naturalist, Bement waxes poetic about vernal pools. Vernal pools have water in them for only part of the year; in the hot summer months, they dry up. Because of this, they cannot support fish. Fish are a threat to salamander eggs, so salamanders only exist in these environments, Bement said. 

Visitors should be warned not to ask Bement about spotted salamanders unless they have some time on their hands. 

Bement was not the only one exuding enthusiasm at the Sensory Explorers’ trail Aug. 10. Laure Wallace, who took the lead on the project and Tim Skinner, park manager thanked the dozens of participants on the project. There was a lot of khaki at the grand opening: Virginia Master Naturalists, Boy Scouts, members of the Youth Conservation Corps, and representatives of the National Federation for the Blind were all grinning and clearly proud. 

Even the salamanders were pleased.

Reach Robin Earl at rearl@fauquier.com

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