Blind World Magazine

They're seeing and experiencing things they may not be able to do normally.

December 11, 2005.
The Connecticut Post, CT.

FAIRFIELD - Experiencing nature along hiking trails at the Connecticut Audubon Society's sanctuary here involves more than just looking, says a center staff member.

Touching, smelling and hearing also are important.

"A lot of people don't really listen," said Carol Kratzman, Audubon's education coordinator. "We do a lot of things with listening activities, such as listening for different bird songs. It's almost like learning another language."

Guided walks that focus on natural outdoor sounds, as well as textures and scents, are especially pertinent for visually- and hearing-impaired youngsters and adults, and the center offers such tours for interested groups.

Hiking tours for the blind may focus on the distinctive sounds of various birds, or even the distinguishing rustle of a tree's wind-blown leaves.

Another guided tour emphasizes touching elements such as tree bark, leaves and moss, "anything that would be very tactile," Kratzman said.

Six miles of walking and hiking trails are part of the center's more than 150-acre sanctuary at 2325 Burr St.

To aid special groups, elevation is relatively consistent, and most of the trails are marked, Kratzman said.

They include the popular "fragrance trail," laden with aromatic plants and shrubs, such as a spicebush that emits a lemon scent. There also is the mile-long Chiboucas Trail. Designed specifically for wheelchair and walker access, and bordered by a smattering of benches, it is a favorite among senior citizens. "It is very flat and very solid," Kratzman said. The Chiboucas Trail was created with the support of Connecticut businessman Don Chiboucas in honor of his mother, Edna Strube Chiboucas.

An advantage of the center's trails over others in the area is its variety, said Frank Rice, who leads a group of Fairfield Senior Center members, the Pacers, on hikes throughout Fairfield and New Haven counties.

"They have quite a few ponds and marshes, a lot of variety in one place," Rice said.

Kathie Cepetelli, therapeutic leisure manager at the Trumbull-based Kennedy Center rehabilitation organization, said the groups of visually impaired and cognitively disabled individuals she's led on the trails also enjoy the pond, as well as other features.

"They love it," Cepetelli said. "Being out in the quiet and getting out for the day, they're seeing and experiencing things they may not be able to do normally.

"The trails are marked and they're easy to follow," Cepetelli said. In addition to being "a really pleasant way to get exercise," the trails are "a real sensory experience for people with cognitive disabilities - getting them to close their eyes and experience their surroundings," she said.

Center trails are open for self-guided use 365 days a year from dawn to dusk. Groups or individuals wishing a staff-guided tour must make arrangements in advance. Depending on the request, a fee may be charged.

Also featured at the Connecticut Audubon Society Center at Fairfield are indoor attractions that include turtles, snakes, frogs and other live animals, and a greenhouse that also serves as a butterfly atrium.

To schedule a staff-guided hike or more information, call 259-6305.

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