COOKSBURG – It will soon be possible to experience the wonders of Cook Forest in a whole new way.
The Friends of Cook Forest, a volunteer, non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing Cook Forest State Park, recently announced plans to convert the 0.2-mile Paved Trail into a sensory trail that will wind through the mature hardwood forest.
“There isn’t another trail of this type within at least a two-hour drive of Cook Forest,” said Friends of Cook Forest chairman Carl Harting, explaining that a sensory trail is designed to be used by individuals with “visual or physical impairments to allow them to enjoy nature like everyone else.”
According to Harting, the concept of adapting the existing ADA-accessible trail loop into a sensory trail was first brought to the Friends of Cook Forest board last fall by board members Mike and Mary Beth Doyle who had visited similar trails in Pittsburgh and Maryland.
“Mike and Mary Beth have family with visual impairments and thought that the present Paved Trail could be upgraded with signs and guide rope very easily,” he said. “They felt that we could make our trail even better.”
Realizing the potential benefit, Friends of Cook Forest members set a goal to raise $5,000 for the project and immediately started hosting various fundraisers — including events hosted by local businesses, as well as raffles and general donation requests — over the past year that really pushed the group toward its financial goal.
In fact, the project received a major push with a $3,900 donation from the Brookville-based corporation, Seneca Resources LLC, after employee Lisa Carr learned of the trail project through the Doyles.
“Seneca Resources has a longstanding commitment to the environment in general and, in particular, to the forests of Pennsylvania,” Friends of Cook Forest board member Ann Harting said, pointing out that the company’s donation helped project organizers exceed their fundraising goal.
“We’re all so grateful for their generosity,” Carl Harting added, noting that the company, which has large land holdings near Cook Forest, was looking for an opportunity to give back to the area.
Accessible via the water tower access road near the entrance of the Sawmill Center for the Arts, the Hartings explained that plans for Cook Forest’s new sensory trail include a freshly repaired and sealed paved surface to allow for wheelchair use, as well as a guide rope the length of the trail to assist individuals with limited vision through the path. The sides of the trail will also be leveled with natural crushed stone.
“The trail will allow those with vision and/or mobility challenges and those who have sensory needs a way to enjoy the forest more independently,” Ann Harting said, explaining that signs along the sensory trail will feature both raised lettering and Braille, and benches will be scattered along the path to allow for rest and to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.
Work on the project is slated to begin in October, with completion expected sometime in spring 2022.
“Cook Forest State Park was able to arrange additional funding for some needed upgrades to the parking area,” Carl Harting said. “Most of this work will be completed this fall, [and] the signs and guide rope will be installed just before the trail is opened.”
Pointing out that the project ties in with Pennsylvania’s Penn’s Parks for All campaign, which advocates that parks be accessible and welcoming to all, Carl Harting said that he hopes the new sensory trail will help those who may have struggled to access the other trails better enjoy Cook Forest and possibly introduce others from out of the area to the park.
“We’re looking forward to seeing an entirely new group of visitors using this trail to learn the wonders of our rate and majestic forests at Cook Forest,” he said. “They’ll be right in the forest and able to hear, smell and feel the uniqueness of the forest.”
A grand opening celebration is being planned upon the trail’s completion to recognize donors and others who helped make the project a success.