GOSHEN — Goshen City Council members received an update on the status of the city’s recently dedicated Ashley VanVurst Sensory Trail during their meeting Tuesday evening.

Helping to present the update was Aaron Sawatsky-Kingsley, director of the Goshen Department of Environmental Resilience, who noted that he and his department, as well as a number of interns, have been working on the trail project for most of the past year.

The trail is a collaborative effort between the city and Bristol-based ADEC Inc., a local nonprofit organization that advocates for and serves people with developmental and intellectual disabilities in Elkhart and St. Joseph counties.

Plans for the new trail were first announced back in January with the goal of helping to connect people with disabilities to the health benefits of nature through the development of a new sensory trail. It was officially dedicated in September at Abshire Park, 1302 E. Lincoln Ave.

To fund the project, the city joined with ADEC in applying for a $200,000 Community Connections for People with Disabilities Grant, which is offered through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs in partnership with the Indiana Division of Disability and Rehabilitative Services.

“This is a really unique project,” Sawatsky-Kingsley said of the trail. “We’re not aware of any other such project anywhere that we have been able to encounter.

“This project is intended to be a self-guided, inventoried walk along portions of our existing trails in Goshen, designed especially for a diversity of abilities throughout the human experience,” he added. “It’s a project which was largely conceived of by my colleague, Theresa Sailor. And then our interns, Chloe Taylor, Gabrielle Vogeler and Kevin Mazariegos Perez, have been the principal constructors of this project.”

According to Sawatsky-Kingsley, while the trail itself has been officially dedicated, there are a number of features of the project, such as an app that can be used while traversing the trail, that have yet to be completed.

“So, it includes an app, which will be available very shortly, which you can download onto any smart device and walk along the trail,” Sawatsky-Kingsley said.

Taylor was also on hand Tuesday to share a bit more information about the app and what it will offer its users.

“This is an app that allows people to experience features of the trails in Goshen by physically walking on the trails, or by sitting at home with their smartphone or tablet,” she told the council. “In the app, you can find pictures, videos, audio clips, descriptions of the features and fun facts.

“The trails that are included in this app are the Millrace Canal and the Maple Heart Trail beginning at Indiana Avenue connecting to the Pumpkinvine Trail up to Abshire Park,” she added. ““All five senses can be used on the trail with this app. The types of features that are included in the sensory trail app include flora, mammals, fish, fungi, insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians and landmarks, which include things like bridges, signs, sidewalk art and more. The idea of the sensory trail app is to get people outside and moving, and this is an app that will help people experience the trails in a new way.”

Sailor, who serves as the trail’s project manager, noted that once finished, the trail will also feature three 24-hour nature cameras, the first of which has already been installed at the Goshen Rieth Interpretive Center, 410 W. Plymouth Ave.

“You can actually get onto that and see and listen to what’s going on 24 hours a day,” she said of the camera, which can be viewed online here. “We’ll also have one that goes out to Fidler Pond — hopefully we’ll make it by Christmas — and then also Violett Cemetery.”

As part of the project, the city established a lending library of 10 iPads at the Rieth Interpretive Center to ensure that persons can access the trail app and participate in the complete trail experience, Sailor explained, noting that the app should be available for download from the Apple App Store by Dec. 10, while the Google version should be available shortly thereafter.

Other aspects of the trail that are currently in the works include the addition of a handicap accessible glider swing at the Rieth Interpretive Center, and a new interactive water feature also planned for construction at the center.

“You and your team have done some really great work here,” Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman said following the trail presentation. “For the Department of Environmental Resilience, I think this is a perfect example of what kinds of projects they can get involved in. They’ve been able to offer great additional entertainment and resources to our community just by using existing infrastructure and natural resources. So, I really appreciate everybody’s input and work on this one.”
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