Lexington autism center teams up with Washington and Lee for new nature trail

LEXINGTON, Va. – A new nature trail is officially open in Rockbridge County. 

The trail in Lexington is unique, and leaders say it could change the lives of the students who use it.

PHOTOS: W&L NATURE TRAIL UNVEILED

Nicholas is taking a break from his typical classes at the Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center in Lexington. On Friday, Nicholas was hunting tigers on the center's new nature trail. 

This trail has taken shape thanks to a partnership between the center and Washington and Lee University. Last year, students in the engineering program began designing, developing and creating this special walkway. 

"We had a number of students approach us and say that they were interested in helping. They wanted to find a way to give back to the community," said Joel Kuehner, a professor at Washington and Lee. 

After months of hard work, the trail was officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. It isn't just any nature trail.

It is designed with the autism center's students in mind. Throughout the path trail, there are sensory stations, such as an outdoor drum set, a fun house mirror and a playhouse.

"They're always seeking out different ways that they can feel the environment or learn from their environment, so the trail creates that opportunity for them," said Meagan Harding, a licensed behavior analyst and special education teacher.  

The students using the trail are all different ages. Some of them have autism and some of them have other learning disabilities.

Some of them can carry on a conversation, while others cannot, but out here in the fresh air and sunshine, life seems a little easier for all of them. 

"Their lives are challenging, so for them to have any amount of excitement and feel that warmth and see them communicating and happy, it means everything to us," said Harding.

The center is hoping to continue working with Washington and Lee in the future. The goal is to add more sensory stations and activities to the trail.