At the beginning of the year, I launched a new, occasional series called Hidden Gems. It features fun little corners of the Triangle for families. You'll find them here on Fridays as part of our weekly feature on places to take kids.
The focal points of this outdoor exhibit, which opened in September 2015 in Durham, are the collection of treehouses, which rise high up into the trees, and the manmade stream that kids love to splash and wade in. (The popularity of Hideaway Woods is one of the reasons why the museum is working to double its parking in the next year).
But, hidden among the trees in the space between those main treehouses and the Young Explorers section for kids 6 and under and not far from the hammocks, you'll find the Sensory Path.
The Sensory Path is modeled after the so-called barefoot parks and sensation paths that are popular in Europe and elsewhere around the world. Here, a path features various surfaces - small pebbles, logs, dirt and boards, for instance. Visitors are encouraged to take their shoes off and walk, run, hop and otherwise move along the path to experience the different surfaces.
Michele Kloda, the museum's exhibit designer, gave me a tour when I was at the museum to check out the new Sound Garden musical exhibit. Kloda tells me that the path offers therapeutic benefits and lets kids and adults test their balance and other physical skills. Those in wheelchairs also can benefit as they maneuver over the surfaces, using different muscles to push themselves along or just experiencing a different feeling as they go from one surface to the next.
If you go, encourage your kids to touch the ferns, grasses and other plantings along the way and even gently shake the tall, skinny trees that rise above the path. Little bells are hidden among them. They might just hear a little jingle.
The Sensory Path is free with admission to the Durham museum, which is $16 and $12 for kids ages 3 to 12.