Vision and Development
The Healing Trail is a paved path, about a half-mile in length, that encircles the historic building complex at the Johnson County Historic Poor Farm. For years, individuals from the nearby residential care facility, Chatham Oaks, would walk a similar loop around the farm which created a naturally-worn path from regular use; members from the Community Action Team (CAT) recommended paving this ‘desire path,’ in effect ingraining this route into the built environment and making it more accessible to all. Paving the path also aligned with the goal to create a trail network as described in the Historic Poor Farm’s 10-year master plan. Backyard Abundance, a participating organization of the CAT, hosted visioning sessions to develop concept design in early 2020. In May of the same year, Backyard Abundance put forth a concept plan which included an outdoor amphitheater area per feedback from input sessions. The work of committees, onsite partners, and community visioning sessions came to fruition as construction was completed in October 2023.
As a key feature of the Healing Trail, the Reflection Circle is envisioned to aid in the experience of the site. Some may sit and enjoy the fresh air, while others may move on the path following tours of the historic Asylum building to decompress. This building can elicit difficult emotions, especially for those with disabilities as they are faced with the question of what their care or living circumstances might have been like in a different time period. The Reflection Circle includes metal sculptures that act to visually frame the historic cemetery, which otherwise is marked only by a wooden cross. With guidance from the Disability Advisory Committee as well as the aforementioned community partners, the Healing Trail is intended to be an ADA-accessible recreation space and community gathering site. The trail’s amenities have been included in recognition of the fact that individuals experience space in different ways based on their age, abilities, and social identities.
Public Trail Use
The Healing Trail is open to the public seven days a week from sunup to sundown and is meant for everyone. The trail was constructed in line with the tenets of Universal Design, meaning that it not only meets but exceeds ADA accessibility requirements. Slower-moving traffic is prioritized on this trail.
According to the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, “an environment should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it.” The Healing Trail was designed with the tenets of Universal Design because everyone should be able to access the outdoors safely and comfortably, and disabled people have not been given this consideration historically. The Disability Advisory Committee has helped guide this project in order to improve inclusion and accessibility. Learn more about Universal Design at https://universaldesign.ie/.
As it stands in late 2023, the Healing Trail provides the following:
ADA-accessible concrete path wide enough for two wheelchairs to move side by side
Interpretive signage describing past and current farm uses and experiences
Outdoor amphitheater area to bring joy to the site by gathering in community
Reflection Circle consisting of a meandering path, seating area, and views of the historic cemetery to give space for contemplation and decompression following tours of the historic Asylum building
Native plantings to add biodiversity, beauty, and edible landscaping
Future plans include the installation of multi-sensory art pieces and rest stops with educational signage on native plants in the area.
Weather and Seasonal Use
The trail is open through all seasons. Snow will be removed as quickly as staff are able. Use trails at your own risk and employ extra caution amidst potentially inclement weather.