COOKSBURG, Pa. — The Friends of Cook Forest, a volunteer, non-profit group dedicated to enhancing Cook Forest State Park, recently converted a one-quarter-mile paved trail into a Sensory Trail that will enable individuals with visual or physical impairments to experience the wonders of Cook Forest in an entirely new way.
Wheelchair access to the trail offers visitors with disabilities enhanced access and independence.
The concept of adapting the existing ADA-accessible trail loop into a sensory trail was first brought to the Friends of Cook Forest board in the fall of 2020 by Mike and Mary Beth Doyle who had visited similar trails in Pittsburgh, Boston, and Maryland. Mike and Mary Beth live in Pittsburgh but have fallen in love with Cook Forest. Their deep love of the park started when they honeymooned there in 1978 and has only grown with each returning visit over the years.
During the Covid-19 pandemic Mary Beth’s mobility was limited by a foot injury, so she walked the then “Paved Trail” because it was short and level. On a visit to Boyce Mayview Park in Upper St. Clair, they came across that park’s sensory trail. From there the idea was born of creating a similar trail in Cook Forest with the “Paved Trail” being the perfect location. The Doyle’s first meeting with Friends of Cook Forest to share their idea was in September of 2020. The idea caught fire and things progressed so quickly that the dedication ceremony was held on July 9, 2022.
The Doyle’s granddaughter Mandy is blind, so they championed the project in hopes that she and others with visual and physical impairments could enjoy the park as much as they do. Friends of Cook Forest members set a goal to raise $5,000 for the project and immediately started hosting various fundraisers. The project received a boost with a $3,900 donation from Seneca Resources LLC, after an employee learned about the trail project. More than $9,000 was raised and DCNR provided funds as well.
The new Cook Forest Paved Sensory Trail is the first of its kind in the Pennsylvania State Park system. It includes a freshly repaired and sealed paved surface to allow for wheelchair use, as well as a guide cable the length of the trail to assist individuals with limited vision through the path.
“The cable helps not only visually impaired people to enjoy the trail, but it also enables visitors with autism to feel grounded” Mike stated.
The sides of the trail have also been leveled with natural crushed stone. Along the trail there are interpretive signs in braille and raised printed letters for sighted visitors as well. The plastic-coated guide cable that runs along the trail has geometric discs along it indicating features that are ahead such as signs and benches. The Friends of Cook Forest board recently purchased four wheelchair-accessible picnic tables for visitors to enjoy at the entrance to the trail.
Mike noted that the project would not have been possible without the support of the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Friends of Cook Forest, and the park staff.
Find more things to do, see, and experience in Cook Forest and the entire Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region online at VisitPAGO.com.