The Cromwell Valley Park Council has begun development of the "Nature Trail for All," a scenic and educational trail that will be accessible to people of varying physical and intellectual limitations.
"There are very few places where someone with limited mobility can be around nature," said Alan Lake, chair of the buildings and grounds committee for the park council.
"Right now, the park is a series of hills. There are 16 miles of trails, but little of it is accessible to people with various limitations," he said.
The accessible trail, which will loop through a half-mile of an overgrown Christmas tree farm in Cromwell Valley Park, will be the first of its kind in the United States, Lake said.
"There really is nothing else like it that's been built," Lake said. "It's truly a unique opportunity for citizens of Baltimore County who don't otherwise have the opportunity to come out."
Along the trail, five educational kiosks — which have been designed at a "very reduced cost" by Adler Display — will overlook different ecosystems that exist in the park: the Piedmont hills and woods, the Minebank stream and wetlands, the edge of the woods, meadows and natural fields and cultivated fields.
The cultivated fields exhibit will overlook Talmar Gardens, a therapeutic and recreational agricultural center that focuses on citizens with special needs or disabilities.
Lake said there would be a different feature at each kiosk along the trail, catering to residents with varying needs.
People with limited hearing will be able to enjoy the visual and tactile aspects of the kiosks, which could include pelts and skeletons from different animals. Persons with limited vision will be aided along the trail by guide ropes and can take guided tours and glean the information from the kiosks in that manner.
"The idea is to make this educational to children and adults," said Ward, who noted that the eventual goal would be to have displays that change with the season — and also teach about threats to the area's natural environment.
The trail itself will be a flat, easily navigable surface — a "level trail with a compact, permeable surface allowing ease of use for all, including wheelchairs, walkers and strollers," according to a fact sheet from the council.
While Lake said the project would not be completed for three to five years — the only evidence of the trail that currently exists is a sign on the road to Sherwood Farms — he noted that there is little to be done in terms of land moving.
Despite the fact that it's years away, plenty of local agencies and businesses have thrown their support behind the project.
Along with the contributions from Adler Display, Stephanie Huck of the engineering design firm URS of Timonium designed the trail free of charge, and the county's Department of Aging, Commission on Disabilities, and Department of Recreation and Parks are all collaborating on the project.
The Maryland School for the Blind is also involved in the project, along with several local senior organizations.
Karen Volz, coordinator of the office of therapeutic recreation services for Baltimore County, said the trail will serve the populations who frequently contact her asking about accessibility issues in the county's parks.
"I get those kinds of calls all the time," she said.
"I often get calls about our other trails that are out there, with people saying 'I can't get to that trail,' or 'If I can get to it, I can't navigate it." Volz said.
While the county is working toward making those trails more accessible, Volz said it's "so important to have a trail that is truly accessible to everyone."
"I think we have the right groups excited to come in and use it," she added. "It won't just be a trail that sits there."