In May, Theodore (Tas) Stoetzner, of Boy Scout Troop 354 of Jenison, completed his Eagle Scout project with the installation of sensory stations at Grand River Park. To access the sensory stations, take the trail closest to the picnic building, and follow the loop.
The sensory stations include two listening stations where users can identify birds based on their calls. There is also a manual dexterity station that provides people with the opportunity to find 15 hidden paving stones that have different textures.
At the walk through station, people will also have the chance to walk on different textures such as pine cones, stones, wood chips and logs. People can take time to stretch at the yoga station.
“I chose this project to help kids and families who live with autism enjoy the parks and be outside more,” Stoetzner said. “When I was learning about trails, I learned that autistic children sometimes have challenges with senses and decided that I should help them with four stations to help them hear, see, and feel different things in nature.”
Jessica VanGinhoven, spokeswoman for Ottawa County Parks, said it was the first time they’ve had someone bring an idea such as Stoetzner’s plan. She said they were excited about the opportunity because they didn’t previously have anything like it.
“We’re lucky to have such a creative community,” VanGinhoven said.
Given the required upkeep of the stations, Stoetzner partnered with Autism Support of West Shore, which agreed to be Adopt-A-Park volunteers.
By committing to being Adopt-A-Park volunteers, individuals or organizations will visit the park multiple times a year.
VanGinhoven said that Stoetzner’s idea and organization, and other community members volunteering, speaks to the type of people in the community.
Linda Ellenbaas, of Autism Support of West Shore, noted that the sensory trails help make parks more accessible.
“Many children with autism have sensory challenges, either under or over stimulation, and these trails allow children to engage their senses in a safe, natural setting,” she said. “Those who seek extra movement like running or extended walks can also utilize the trail, with the added bonus of the sensory input.”