Students in the EASEL program learn outdoors at Bow in the Clouds
articipants at a birding event for visually-challenged folks using their sense of touch to experience the nature playscape at Bow in the Clouds
Creating universal, barrier-free access to Bow in the Clouds Preserve in Kalamazoo will be possible this spring now that $40,000 has been raised for the project.
Donations from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, a number of funding partners, many Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, and others, the goal for creating access was not only reached but exceeded.
Phase One of the access will be constructed this spring and a grand opening is anticipated this fall. Phase 1 of the plan will include:
• a barrier-free loop trail that will be smooth and level in the upland area of the preserve that people with wheelchairs or walkers, or those with visual challenges can navigate
• a new trailhead that will be oriented so that it can be experienced from a standing or sitting position;
• a platform with a ramp at the wetland overlook which will accommodate wheelchairs and classroom lessons; and
• several new benches where people can sit down to rest or just enjoy the preserve.
Bow in the Clouds was donated to the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy by the Sisters of St. Joseph in 2007. The 60-acre preserve includes one-mile of moderate trails and boardwalk from the parking area through a wetland and forest. The land behind the Nazareth Center off Gull Road is open to the public.
Plans to make the preserve barrier-free were developed in cooperation with the Disability Network Southwest Michigan and the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.
“As a person with vision loss, being able to listen to the nature that surrounds us, touching and smelling the various flowers, feeling the fallen logs, and just sitting and feeling the breezes made visiting Bow in the Clouds so enjoyable,” says Denise S. Davies, a participant in a Disability Network field trip to Bow in the Clouds led by SWMLC’s Conservation Stewardship Director Nate Fuller.
According to the Disability Network Southwest Michigan, more than 50,000 or 20 percent of Kalamazoo County’s residents have a disability. “Too often, barriers in the physical environment create segregated communities and feelings of isolation," says the Disability Network's CEO and President Joel Cooper. "Having access to recreational activities and the means of being able to share that experience with others aids in creating a healthy and inclusive community.”
The barrier-free, universal access improvements at Bow in the Clouds will not only create a natural haven for people who are mobility-challenged, they will also provide the foundation for nature-based education programs serving children in Kalamazoo’s Eastside Neighborhood, says Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy's Fuller.
The SWMLC will continue the Eastside Arts and Sciences Experiential Learning (EASEL) program with Eastside Youth Strong at Bow in the Clouds, and has been working with the Spring Valley Center for Exploration to learn how Bow in the Clouds can be integrated into their K-5 Communities in Schools curriculum.
SWMLC is planning further universal barrier-free access improvements in a second phase of the project which could begin as early as 2019 if fundraising is successful.
Source: Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy