and photos by Susan Schell
Simpson-Reed Redwood Grove assaults the senses with its overwhelming natural beauty. The Jurassic park-like atmosphere surrounds visitors with mighty redwoods and giant ferns.
The smell of the lush greenery cleanses the lungs; stress melts away with the sound of the rushing stream.
The park recently played host to a group of special individuals. Brookings resident Jan Norwood led the group along the path, stopping to identify particular fauna and pointing out natural phenomena, like giant burls growing from the side of a tree.
Norwood has been leading Hospitality Tours for eight years. The focus of this tour was to let the blind and the handicapped experience the same things as those who are not physically challenged. She felt the park's array of wonders should be experienced by everyone.
"We've never been able to get anyone who is physically challenged on these tours," Norwood said.
"I thought to myself, why don't we have tours for them?' They say to themselves, I can't walk, I can't see, so I can't go out.' I can probably name about 30 people who are stuck in their houses in town because they feel like they can't get out. With these tours, we can bring them out of a dark world they felt they could not get out of."
Norwood was rewarded tenfold by the feedback she got from her tour.
"They're so appreciative," she said.
"I thought the trip was fabulous," said Carol Mallard, who took the tour with her guide dog, Tahoe.
Mallard is the president of the local American Council of the Blind.
"Jan did such a great job of describing things, you felt like you could see it," Mallard continued, "and being able to touch those trees. I was standing inside the trunk of a tree. I didn't know there were trees that big. Tahoe seemed to enjoy it too."
Judy Drais, who uses a wheelchair, joined the tour. The trail at Simpson-Reed is so well-maintained, it is easily accessible by wheelchair.
"I've never been to the redwoods before," she said.
Norwood said "we want to get those who are blind to learn to recognize things through touch, taste, smell and hearing; for those who are wheelchair-bound, to learn to look at life from a different point of view, and for these who are healthy and sighted, to learn to recognize wonders most people never stop to take the time to see."
"It was so peaceful and serene," Mallard said. "You could hear the river flowing. I loved it. You don't have to have good eyesight to enjoy the outdoors."
Norwood said she is planning future activities for the visually impaired, including a clay sculpting class at the Manley Art Center in June.
The American Council for the Blind and Visually Impaired holds meetings on the fourth Thursday of every month. Mallard said those who are visually impaired may join the group; you don't have to be completely blind.
For information, call (541) 412-3023.