Close your eyes. Smell the wildflowers. Hear the wind chatter through the trees. Trail goers can experience a whole new world by hiking Virginia's newly renovated Lion's Tale Trail. The special trail isn't long, but visitor's quickly discover that there's more to a forest than "meets the eye."
Why is this trail unique? It's specially designed for visually impaired hikers and others willing to refresh their senses. Late last year trail organizers rededicated the trail, a federally recognized national recreation trail, after mammoth floods from Hurricane Fran ripped apart the path. It took nearly four years to collect cleanup funds and rebuild the half-mile hiking trail.
The trail, originally known as the Braille Trail, was constructed in the 1970s through a partnership between the Forest Service, the Lion's Club, and the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind. Recovery efforts focused on repairing the trail's path and bridges.
Anyone can grow from the experience, officials say. For visually impaired users, each stop has an embedded sign printed with high contrast lettering and imprinted with Braille. Others may wear darkened goggles as they walk the trail; a headset provides audio highlights of the interpretive stops along the trail.
Seasonal "sniff boxes" and cold creeks make the dark journey even more attractive to visitors.
At each stop your guide, a lop-eared mountain lion, provides information on Virginia forest ecology. Trail users have their senses of touch, smell, and hearing stimulated throughout the trail. In route they learn know-how about plant life, why river rocks are round, the life in a rotten log, and other wild facts.
For more information on George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, visit www.fs.fed.us/links/forests.shtml.