Getting around nature with disabilities

People with disabilities sometimes find themselves limited by circumstances when they want to go outdoors to enjoy a nature trail or maybe an afternoon of fishing, but Seneca County has many options to help.

Family members who use wheelchairs or need flat surfaces for walking have many trails to choose from, and blind people can “see” several areas through the availability of tactile maps.

Of course, the nature areas aren’t only for people with disabilities. They’re for everybody, but enhancements have made these areas more accessible.

Some of these accessible nature areas are less well known than others, so here is a summary of places to go for people with disabilities, or to take an elderly relative with limited mobility for an afternoon.

For people with visual impairments, Seneca County has three parks with tactile maps to help blind people “see” the terrain and features of the area they are visiting. The maps at Schekelhoff Nature Preserve, Tiffin University Nature Preserve and Opportunity Park were put in place a few years ago during the final phase of the county’s Access to Recreation project.

A2R was made possible by a $419,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Mich., to a partnership of Tiffin Charitable Foundation, Tiffin City Council, Tiffin Park and Recreation Department, Seneca County Park District, Seneca County Opportunity Center and Tiffin University. A local match of $327,000 provided funds for five projects totaling $746,000 at Opportunity Park, Hedges-Boyer Park, and Zimmerman, Schekelhoff and Tiffin University nature preserves.

In the second phase of A2R, the Kellogg Foundation offered the county an additional $21,000 to erect tactile maps at three project locations. The local committee selected the nature preserves at Schekelhoff and Tiffin as well as Opportunity Park to receive them.

According to information at the time, the areas were chosen for “total user experience benefitting people of all abilities and universally designed to meet the wide range of visitor functional limitations to mobility, hearing, vision and cognition.”

One of the tactile maps is found at Opportunity Park, part of Seneca County Opportunity Center, 780 CR 20. The park has a wheelchair-accessible trail and oval track. People can enjoy an accessible picnic shelter, and it’s a great place for families because it has accessible playground equipment.

The park is open to the public as a cooperative agreement between the Opportunity Center and Seneca County Park District.

Another tactile map can be found in the parking area at Tiffin University Nature Preserve, just east of Tiffin’s city limits off Miami Street. The 29-acre nature preserve has a partially-paved trail which leads to a longer, unpaved loop trail. A gazebo and picnic area is easily accessible on the paved portion.

The preserve is a cooperative project between Tiffin University, the county park district and other government agencies.

The third tactile map is at entrance to Schekelhoff park, a 37-acre area with a half-mile wheelchair-accessible paved trail off North Water Street along the Sandusky River north of Tiffin Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The area includes an overlook of the river and a shelter with picnic tables and benches along the route.

The same map includes tactile details of Seneca County Park District’s Clinton Nature Preserve, which continues north from Schekelhoff to TR 132 following an old township road right of way. The path is not paved, but is stoned and includes fishing access to the river.

Another park with wheelchair access is the county’s 292-acre Garlo Heritage Nature Preserve, 5777 S. SR 19, Bloomville. From the parking area, people with disabilities can follow a paved area to a boardwalk which leads to a pond with a sheltered fishing spot for catch-and-release fishing.

The paved area continues to Olgierd Lake, a 37-acre shallow lake with another sheltered fishing area. From there, a 2.7-mile unpaved trail goes around the lake.

Continuing in the county park system, Zimmerman Nature Preserve, which is in Tiffin on SR 18 between Autumnwood Care Center and Genex Cooperative, is a 5-acre park with a 0.2-mile wheelchair-accessible trail, two picnic shelters, a grill and raised gardening beds.

Elsewhere in Tiffin is Hedges-Boyer Park with entrances off Coe and Summit streets. The city’s largest park at 78 acres, it features a 1.15-mile paved trail with paved paths leading to picnic shelters and an overlook on Rock Creek.

Another circular paved trail is found at Oakley Park, bordered by Grand, Park and 6th avenues. It has a new paved trail of about a mile.

There are two more areas where people with disabilities can enjoy nature in a rural setting.

Anglers can do some catch-and-release fishing at Miller Conservation Farm, an 80-acre farm owned by Seneca Conservation District at 5670 E. TR 138. The front part of the area has a paved trail that allows wheelchair users to go from the parking lot to the pond. The picnic shelter also is accessible.

Wheelchair users interested in deer hunting can get information on an annual deer hunt in which volunteers use a trailer to assist hunters in getting to covered hunting spots. For information, call (419) 447-7073.

At the other side of the county, a boardwalk snakes through the wetlands of Springville Marsh State Nature Preserve, TR 24, 3.5 miles north of Carey off US 23 in Big Spring Township.

The boardwalk is over shallow water in many places and has no rails so wheelchair users should be accompanied by another person. A ground-level observation blind provides a view of a pond frequented by ducks and geese.

Hint: Put on an extra layer of bug spray during the summer.