A Sensory Trail for Everyone in Harford County, MD (S1E9)

People with disabilities in Harford County, Maryland now have a wonderful way to get exercise thanks to a fabulous new sensory trail and it features among other things a huge drum, 9-foot-high chimes, a roller table for tactile sliding and lots of other activities for fun and relaxation. There’s also a specially designed baseball field for wheelchairs. For many kids, this is a way to use a park that in the past was out of bounds. Just listen to the enthusiasm in their voices.

Transcription of A Park where Everyone can Bang on the Drum all Day (S1E9)

Carol: This is a good government show.

Rachel Harbin: The more that we engage the five senses, the better we can make sense of our world and how do we fit in the world? You know, sensory stimulation has been such a therapy, therapeutic part of of so many people’s lives.

Carol: And that’s what this edition of the good government show is all about, how to stimulate our senses. I’m Carol D’auria.

David: And I’m David Martin. This time on the government show, we’re discussing the sensory trail, and this is an award winning project that can provide outdoor stimulation for everyone. But in particular, it’s folks who have a variety of disabilities.

Carol: In Harford County, Maryland, which is a suburban county just north of Baltimore. There are about 3000 children with disabilities. And so that county executive, along with its Parks and Recreation Department and Community Services, all those officials put their heads together and built the sensory trail.

Here’s Rachel Harbin. She’s the manager of Harvard County’s Office of Disability Services.

Rachel Harbin: It is along a paved path in one of our beautiful parks, and it has ten different stations that are stationed about one tenth mile apart from each other on this trail. So they are interactive. They’re made of plastic and stainless steel and other durable materials, and they’re very colorful. I know you wish you could see them. They are bright colors, and each of them offers something different in terms of senses. So we have huge chimes. We have a lot of musical musical stations, so the chimes are the big attraction.

When you first drive in the park, you’ll see these big chimes that are six feet tall and you have to have two rubber mallets. And kids can play them and the noise just resounds through the park is beautiful. And then you can place your hand on on the huge chimes to stop them, and then you walk a little ways down the trail. And there there’s a huge rainbow spinning circle that you can take your hand and you could hold onto his hand and spin it around.

Inside, you can hear sounds kind of like a pebble, like in a rain stick as you spin it, so that it’s it’s the auditory and then it’s the visual with the colors and then you continue on. There’s physical things for the physical stimulation. We have a huge roller table that’s about two feet off the ground. It’s made of stainless steel rods that are perfectly placed so that you would never get pinched by them. You won’t pinch your clothes or your or your skin because you actually can lay on it.

And they’re stainless steel rods going across you and over top of you like in a dome is pull yourself along your back. Like, how like massage is your back? You can. It’s taller than it’s ten feet, ten feet long, and you can just roll right down it and keep and you can just pull yourself up and back back with it. It creates a little laughter. A lot of a lot of fun. We definitely we wanted these stations to be available for all ages. So adults with disabilities, adults with any abilities can use all of these, and they do.

If you visit our park, you will see people of all ages and abilities playing at these stations because they’re just they’re just so fun. You’re enjoying nature. You’re getting a little bit of exercise and it’s fully accessible. So if you have if you’re in a wheelchair, the path connecting all of the stations is paved. But then as you kind of turn into each station, that is accessible as well. So it’s not much is a soft asphalt.

David: So this trail actually sounds like it could be a lot of fun. Does it get a lot of use?

Carol: Actually, it does. About 1000 people visit the trail every weekend, and Rachel shared this really wonderful story about a young boy who had his birthday party at the Sensory Trail.

Rachel Harbin: You know, we had one family who reached out to me to share that they had a young child, a young boy with autism who never had a birthday party before because he just couldn’t picture having a party at one of those typical places, like a bounce house or something. All those kind of things they thought would be too overwhelming. And so he had his first friend’s birthday party when he was six at the Sensory Trail. So he invited friends from his class who do not have disabilities, and they all loved it equally, and it was such a…

The mom said it was such a safe environment for him because he could use all the equipment. He loved all the equipment, and it was so fun that all of the kids. No, it’s not. It doesn’t look like it’s something just for kids with disabilities. It’s so fun for everyone.

David: Oh, what a great story. That’s really cute. What a great example of the sensory trail and use. I bet they all had a really fun birthday party, you know? I hope there was pizza. Was there a pizza?

Carol: I think there was.

David: A birthday cake.

Carol: Absolutely.

David: It was outdoor…

Carol: Right.

David: All right. It was all there. Good. All right. Just check it.

Carol: Yes. So a kid with autism can, you know, can really get overwhelmed and be being outside in the park environment? It really helps. Heck, my own kid got overwhelmed. Listen to this, David. She was about four years old. I took it to a birthday party and they had a clown. Well.

David: Clowns could be scary.

Carol: This one had big feet on it. It sure that’s scary. She screamed like somebody was killing her. It was really embarrassing. So I had to take her out of the room and calm her down. It’s OK. So the point is that little kids really can have a problem, and she didn’t have autism.

So can you imagine a child with a disability? It could be a problem.

David: All right.

Carol: This trail can help kids with all kinds of disabilities.

Rachel Harbin: We know now that as more research comes out, the benefits of sensory play, so not just for children with disabilities, but for everybody. The seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling. The more that we engage the five senses, the better we can make sense of our world and how do we fit in the world?

And so sensory stimulation has become such a therapy, therapeutic part of so many people’s lives. You know, in the school system and other therapies that for us, we really felt like it would be worth this investment. And it was an investments, but we had wonderful community partners that came alongside of Harford Carver County governments to make this project possible.

Carol: That is great. What about somebody who’s blind?

Rachel Harbin: There’s plenty for someone who is blind. I mean, there’s so much texturally on all of the stations and also, you know, auditory we have we have a set of drums. We have, you know, it looks like a couple of xylophones.

So once you make your way, the xylophone, I mean, you don’t need to see it to be able to make some beautiful music on the xylophone. That’s for sure.

David: Drums and xylophone. So what does this look like? I mean, I would have loved to be able to make big noise in a park when I was a kid.

Carol: Yes, because I’m sure even as a kid now, this is just a guess. But were you always the loudest kid in the room?

David: OK, well, maybe not the loudest, but I do recall that my teacher did write in my report card. You always know when David’s in the room and you look, it’s not just me. Come on, Carol. You’ve got a career radio, for years you’ve been speaking to millions. You’re telling me you were the little quiet kid. I don’t know.

Carol: I sure was. I was always the one who sat in the front of the classroom and I was very quiet. And you have to understand I went to Catholic school and I sure as hell didn’t want to get in trouble with the nuns.

David: Oh, you don’t want to get in trouble with the nuns?

Carol: No. But back to your question. They have drum set up on this sensory trail. They have kettle, kundu, and goblet drums. It’s all part of the park equipment. So they permanent and they’re waterproof. And you can just bang on them like their bongos and make all the noise you want.

David: So that’s kind of like having a permanent bass drum right in your own backyard.

Carol: Exactly. And the xylophones are fun, too. They are about four feet wide and three feet off the ground, and they come with a mallet so you can bang on the chimes and make your own music.

David: So, Carol? All right, I’m hooked here. So here’s what we should do. Let’s get a few bottles of wine. You work the xylophones. I’m on the drums. We have a little outdoor concert going, do you think?

Carol: Oh yeah, music in the park and wine I’m all in.

David: All right, good.

Carol: The sponsor of the good government show is Liquid. We love Liquid and not just because they are our sponsor.

David: But that is why we love Liquid because they are our sponsor. But do you know why they’re called Liquid?

Carol: No. Why?

David: Well, because every time you walk in, they say, Would you like something to drink?

Carol: Oh, really David?

David: Yes. Yes. They have liquids. So like, you walk it right, you walk in. They had this big refrigerator depending on which office you go to. They have a big refrigerator, they have a big coffee room. You have you’ve liquids, you have water, you have tea. So you want something to drink. You go to Liquid.

Carol: OK. Oh, okay.

David: That might not actually be why they’re called Liquid, but it’s a great name for a company. And what they do do is Liquid helps companies find their customers. It helps them engage in digitally. There’s a story they told us a fifth generation business Liquid got involved to help them tell their story.

They highlighted the rich history on a new website the Liquid created. So the family had trouble. They were talking about their products, but Liquid gave me a couple of glasses of water. They all sat down. They talked about it. Maybe a little coffee, maybe something else. I don’t know if they had liquids, but they should have a clear way to get their message across. And now they have a new award winning website thanks to Liquid, and they probably had their own refrigerator of like bottled water.

Carol: Liquid has a full creative staff. They find out where each customer’s clients live online, whether it’s Facebook or YouTube, or even LinkedIn, whatever it is. The bottom line is Liquid helps their customers with a full digital marketing campaign.

David: And that’s why we love Liquid. They offer you drinks, but they make digital work, so check them out on the World Wide Web at liquid INT dot com. That’s Liquid INT dot com.

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Carol: The Sensory trail can help kids with disabilities accomplished so much, but the sensory trail isn’t the only thing they built. So David, this is for you what’s considered the great American pastime?

David: Well, I guess you’re talking about baseball?

Carol: Right, so what’s your favorite team?

David: Well, with this story, we’re in Baltimore? So I should say the Orioles, but yeah, not really their year. So I’m going with my hometown, New York Yankees.

Carol: Yeah. And I probably shouldn’t say this too loudly, but I like the Mets.

David: No, shouldn’t really say that. Well, I guess you could say that. Well, it’s a tough for them.

Carol: Well, I have a soft spot in my heart for them.

David: But you know, the lovable loser thing. I get it. Okay.

Carol: This isn’t a ball field for the American or the National Leagues. They built a ball field for the Miracle League, and they built it right next to the sensory trail. It’s all part of the same park.

David: So what’s the miracle league? Can you actually get to the Yankees or the Orioles or even the Mets from the Miracle League?

Carol: No, but the Miracle League lets kids with disabilities dream big league dreams. Let’s have Rachel explain it.

Rachel Harbin: So the park itself is large and it does have a lot of trees. A lot of paths, has huge baseball fields. This century is actually when you drive in right along the front of the park. So it’s actually not shaded.

It’s actually open so that you can see the entire park as you’re as you’re walking towards it at the end of the trail. We built a Miracle League Baseball field, so that is a special baseball field for children and adults with differing abilities to play baseball.

So it is a special turf that wheelchairs or anyone can use. For example, if you fall in trip, is that is that going to be? That could be painful and they play with a buddy system. So baseball players without disabilities will partner with the children or adults who do have disabilities to play. You know, the favorite pastime, baseball.

David: Well, that’s cool. So the kids can play baseball and they have a dedicated park just for them.

Carol: And they play. But the Miracle League field gives the kids and adults another sports activity.

David: Well, you know, that’s excellent. Just different ways to move around and get physical. Extra options to be out in the air and moving around and all exercise in any form is good, right, Carol?

Carol: You’re asking me, you’re the guy who still plays rugby, so you tell me.

David: OK, all right. Well, yes, except maybe playing rugby. Yes. Any time you get to move your muscles around, it’s good. You know what, Carol? I’m going to help you out when we’re done with this. We’re going to go to the park and to play a little one on one basketball. What do you say?

Carol: Next time.

David: Next time?

Carol: All right, let’s see why. Oh, basketball, I have to tell you this. I was the kid who shot for the other team’s basket. I always got the baskets mixed up. So you know what they did? They made me a guard, so I couldn’t get into too much trouble.

David: All right. Well, OK. So no basketball. All right. I’m playing squash later. You can come.

Carol: OK, I’ll just watch.

David: No, no, you got to play well. So with all these extras, they have got up. They’ve got a baseball park, they’ve got all these outdoor activities. You know, every time there must be more costs, more costs. So this must have been expensive.

Carol: Right? You could hear it going ch-ching, but it was pretty worthwhile. one of the things that made it doable was that Harford County already owned the land. That was a big thing. Barry Glassman is the county executive of Harford County.

He said the total cost was about $150,000 and it was a public private venture which made it even better.

Barry Glassman: Once we got the design and the equipment and we kind of had a ballpark of the of the cost. We knew that each of those stations would be around $22,000, and so we began to solicit different community members. And actually, the Harford Center where I first served was one of the sponsors our library system, United Methodist Churches, the ARC of northern Chesapeake, APG Federal Credit Union. So we we had an easy time. I mean it, it really is quite remarkable. It’s kind of an easy sell. Jones Junction, which has always been good to the community, probably one of the largest car dealers in the region, signed up right away to help us, our local credit union from Aberdeen Proving Ground and Harford Mutual Insurance companies.So we did have some for-profit companies participate also.

David: Well, it’s so nice to see government working well with local businesses, and it sounds like all this money was really well spent.

Carol: Oh, it really was. I did an interview with two young disabled women, Kassie and Rebecca, who absolutely love the sensory trail. They were with an aide who is really a big help to them. first, you’re going to hear from the aide. Her name is Gillian Miller, and then you’re going to hear from Kassie. Kassie has challenges with a verbal skills, but you know, if you listen closely, you can hear, Kassie’s enthusiasm shine through.

Gillian Miller: It’s something different. It’s something entertaining if you’re not musically inclined. Those instruments make you feel like you’re musically inclined.

Kassie: I love music.

Rebecca: Me too, me too.

Kassie: I think we do right now. Music moves me in so many ways.

Carol: That’s great. That’s great. It lets you express yourself. That’s wonderful.

Kassie: In so many ways.

David: Well, she’s really seems to love the sensory trail, and they really sound happy. So I hope they get out often.

Carol: Yes, Gillian says just being outside with others makes it a great day. And Kassie couldn’t hold back. So listen closely.

Gillian Miller: So they’re able to do this once a week, at least sometimes twice a week. You also have the gazebo where they can come and they can sit. You have the baseball field. There is a playground down at the end, so it’s some really nice views, you know, even just to socialize because you can see other people doing other things. A lot of people come and walk their dogs.

Kassie: Feels so good to get some fresh air.

Carol: Absolutely. Fresh air is so important. This sensory trail was the first of its kind in that region. And many others have since followed and copied. It’s really an outgrowth of a whole philosophy. What they’re trying to do is level the playing field so everyone can participate.

Barry Glassman: Harford County was no different than, you know, the other 23 jurisdictions in Maryland, where in fact it’s an it was, you know, an underserved segment of the community and. You know, I think sometimes particularly dealing in the disability community, there’s a lot of effort spent on treatment, finding jobs, getting skills up to par, all those kind of things we talk about on kind of the policy side. But, you know, recreation having fun is something that probably was put on the backburner. And so we it’s one of those. It’s kind of an easy and a good, a good story that we we’d like to participate more.

Carol: When you awake, awaken in the spirit, then you can get lots of things done when people feel as good as they possibly can. And recreation is what really moves that along, I think.

Barry Glassman: Yeah. And you know, and we’ve seen it not only we have a I can bike program that has specialized bikes that we bring in every summer, and that camp has been booked up and sold out every year where parents can finally bring their children to ride a bike.

So everyone you know, you can remember when you first rode a bike, I know even in our our our baseball program, we now have a specialized field at Schuck’s Road, also where folks can play softball in wheelchairs. And you know, we all can think about playing softball for the first time, riding a bike for the first time. And so when you ask people to give and participate, to give young people, you know, that have special, special needs to give them the same opportunity, it’s an easy sell. It really is.

David: So the Harford County Trail is really a trailblazer for other similar parks. That’s a great example of good government spreading the word. This is just yet another great example on the good government show of government in this case Harford County, Maryland, getting the job done.

Carol: The Harford County executive, Barry Glassman, sums it up really nicely.

Barry Glassman: And you know, the nice thing in local government that I and I spent 16 years in the state legislature as a as a delegate and senator in Maryland, and it can take years to get projects adopted and legislation passed. But as county executive, you know, we’re we’re one of the big eight counties in the state of Maryland. We have a population of about 250,000 people and a combined general and capital budget of about $1,000,000,000. But as county executive, you really have the luxury of saying, “Y es, I want to do this. Let’s make it happen.” And I hate to simplify it as much as that. But that is one of the great things about local government, particularly on a smaller level, that you can make things move and happen fairly quickly.

You know, I can tell Amber Shrodes, my director of Community Services, and Rachel Harbin, who you’ve talked with and say, No, we’ll find the money for this. It sounds good. We’ll make it happen. Plus, we own the property. We own the Schuck’s road complex. And so when you have the property and funding, you can make things happen.

David: And this is exactly why we do these stories to show how government can work and be effective and efficient. And in Harford County, it looks like they have a county executive who does just that.

Carol: And so that’s the story of the sensory trail in Maryland.

David: Well, I’m in. I want to get out there and I literally want to bang on the drum all day.

Carol: Oh, I’ll bring the earplugs.

David: Oh no, no, it’s gonna be great. Don’t forget the wine. And of course, we’ll need some backup singers and maybe guitar.

Carol: Yes, for a concert in the park. Well, let’s not record the thing.

David: Oh, no, no. I think everyone’s going to really want to hear this. I think I think they’re gonna like it.

Carol: Oh, no, they would not trust me.

David: All right. Well, maybe we’ll just get out once we’ll have a rehearsal and see how we do.

Carol: David, don’t quit your day job.

David: All right. Well, thanks, Carol. This is another great story of good government action. Thanks for listening. I’m David Martin.

Carol: And I’m Carol D’auria. We’ll see you next time and a good government show.

David: The Good Government Show is a Valley Park Production, Jason Stershic is our editor and producer. Associate producers are Jade Ludlow and Mackenzie Martin, the executive producers of The Good Government Show are Jim Ludlow, David Martin and David Snyder. Join us again right here for another episode of The Good Government Show.ht here for another episode of The Good Government Show.