In 2021 Audubon Naturalist Society completed a stream and trail restoration at our headquarters. The project’s completion was a silver lining in a tough pandemic year. We knew from the beginning that just saying, ‘nature is for everyone’ wasn’t enough. We had to provide the access to nature, and we did. In 2021, we completed wheelchair accessible features including a composting restroom facility, parking spaces and a bus pull-off at the trailhead to our newly accessible nature trail. We added a water fountain, bike racks and a bike repair station. Our quarter-mile-long, accessible trail enables visitors of all abilities to enjoy all the habitats at our headquarters at Woodend Sanctuary – our forest, meadows, stream and pond.
And just like the line from the movie, ‘if you build it, they will come,’ we have worked with more veterans groups than ever before in our history using the new trail. The result is that our 33-acre nature sanctuary is now a model of environmental best practices, and is accessible to everyone in the DC region, including disabled veterans and their families. ANS knows that time spent in nature provides healing and stress relief for all people. That is why our grounds are free and open to the public from dawn to dusk, 365 days a year.
Even before the accessible features were complete, we hosted tours, classes and workshops and have already served 800 visitors on a trail we opened officially just two weeks ago. ANS worked with groups including The Wounded Warrior Project, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and Knollwood, a DC-based community of senior federal and military retirees. We introduced veterans with chronic conditions to stress-relieving Forest Bathing and led groups of military veterans on tours of Woodend’s habitats.
For the first time ever, people in wheelchairs, walkers and with strollers can visit our pond and outdoor classroom. ANS tour leaders frequently hear comments like, “Thank you so much! I’m coming back!” and “I’m going bring my elderly mother here to enjoy nature.” The words say a lot, but the looks of joy and exclamations of happiness are the true measure of our success. In those moments we know that people are genuinely experiencing the full benefit of spending time in nature. We are proud to facilitate those moments of healing, respite and joy.
Our work this year has not only benefited the people who visit Woodend Sanctuary to use our accessible trail and escape from Covid lockdown, it has also benefited nature. Our restored stream, permeable trail, permeable parking lots and rain gardens help reduce pollution flowing into Rock Creek, the Potomac and the Chesapeake Bay. Our goal is to treat 100% of stormwater that falls on our property by spreading it out, slowing it down and soaking it in. The dams and waterfalls restored to our stream and pond established wonderful habitats for amphibians and aquatic insects. The frogs, toads, salamanders and dragonflies moved in long before the restoration was complete. And we’ve planted thousands of new trees, shrubs and understory plants to increase the biodiversity of our forest and stream valley to support wildlife. We’ve already spotted foxes, woodchucks, sandpipers and wild turkeys, all taking refuge at Woodend again.
We’ve dubbed our project Nature for All, and our goal is to serve even more people by expanding and strengthening our partnerships with organizations that serve people with disabilities and veterans. We are now working with our public school system’s office of Students with Disabilities to ensure that youngsters will have their special place at Woodend too. We know that families form deep bonds when they spend time together in nature. And that children thrive when they have the chance to play outside. The next step in our Nature for All plan is to create a Nature Play Space, filled with accessible, natural play features that will encourage students, teachers and families of all abilities to learn and play together outdoors.
We welcome everyone, and we are excited for what the future holds. It’s been a successful year!