Sensory Woods at Barkhausen

Published: Sep. 5, 2018 at 2:52 PM CDT
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Barkhausen Waterfowl Preserve in Suamico is home to the first-of-its-kind sensory woods in the country.

People of all abilities now have an area to connect with nature.

It's a vision that took Jason Petrella more than a year-and-a-half to make a reality. He was inspired by a family member with Alzheimer's.

"I've seen people come out here and use the park over the years, bringing loved ones, bringing clients from assisted living centers and using the nature center and the grounds, and I started thinking it would be really nice to have some place where it's not meant specifically for people with those abilities but for all abilities," says Petrella, Barkhausen's program and natural resource coordinator.

With input from a number of community organizations serving people with disabilities, from dementia to cerebral palsy to autism, Petrella designed the Sensory Woods at Barkhausen.

The woods are accessible for anyone and contain a number of stations.

"A raised garden bed. It's almost like a desk, and then there's elements of sand, rock, soil, things we kind of take for granted that we can just reach down and grab whenever we want. Now it's at an accessible height. And there's a sensory woodworking table," says Petrella, naming just a few.

Thanks to a number of community service organizations, like the Green Bay West Rotary Club, the project was paid for and constructed through donations.

"You don't see this part of society a lot. We don't see the Alzheimer's, people with dementia. Not that they're hidden away, but if it's not part of your family you don't see it. So, coming out here and just being away, make yourself aware of these things make you a better person, I think, and a better part of the community," says Ken Rehn, a member of the Green Bay West Rotary.

A community with a nature center that's now the first in the nation to have a sensory woods.

"I think it is really unique, and I'm excited about it and excited to see how it grows in the future," says Petrella.

The sensory woods are free and open from sunrise to sunset.