Watch CBS News

She wanted a space for her son, who has autism, to explore nature. So, she created a whimsical fairy forest.

Mom creates trail inspired by son with autism
Mom creates whimsical fairy forest inspired by son with autism 02:41

If you walk around the Rahway Trail in the South Mountain Reservation of Millburn, New Jersey, you might spot more than leaves, trees and chipmunks. Fairies live among the foliage. Small whimsical cottages are hidden in the tree trunks and branches – a surprisingly sweet sight in an otherwise normal-looking forest.

The fairy homes were not built by mythical creatures, but by volunteers. The idea to add small dwellings to the landscape came from a woman named Therese Ojibway, who 10 years ago wanted her son, who has autism, to have a safe space to explore in the wilderness. 

"So, she found this Rahway Trail and started leaving fairy tidbits here and there, so that when they came, he had something they could look for and over time she kept filling it up even more," said Julie Gould, one of the keepers of the trail. 

Therese Ojibway started creating the fairy trail 10 years ago, as a space for her son, who has autism, to explore in nature. Therese Ojibway

The South Mountain Conservancy started to notice the little cottages popping up around the forest. When they learned Ojibway was hand-making the little fairy fixtures, they decided to allow her to continue building her magical kingdom to what is now known as the Fairy Trail. 

"She thought this was a dynamic way of getting little children into nature, getting them to use their imaginations, getting them to tap into their creativity and stimulate both early childhood and special needs children," said Beth Kelly, another trail keeper. 

Ojibway and her son moved out of the area a few years ago, but their fairy trail legacy lives on. Gould and Kelly were officially asked to become the "Makers and Keepers" of the trail. The women, along with volunteers, continue to build little wooden homes for the fairies. 

Beth Kelly and one of the nearly 100 tiny "fairy" homes along the trail. CBS News

"The houses do have to be up to code. In this case, the code is Julie and Beth Code," Kelly said, joking. "Because we need to give these fairies a stable house to live in … So we ask people to just work with us, keep it all natural, keep the colors down." Most of the homes are made out of natural elements that can then disintegrate back into the forest. 

Visitors of the Fairy Trail can spend hours looking for the nearly 100 tiny homes tucked into the nooks and crannies of the woods, but unfortunately, they might not see fairies.

Handmade fairy homes are tucked into downed trees, branches and other nooks and crannies of the forest. CBS News

"We don't always see them, they're shy," said Kelly. "They let Julie and I see them once in a while. But really you should see when they ride on the backs of the chipmunks, sometimes they swing on the leaves … So for us to be able to provide homes for them is just wonderful."

Still, kids attempt to see the fairies — and sometimes they're convinced they have. If they don't, it was still a day well spent out in nature 

"This is really about a magical feeling when you come here … it touches your heart, it gives you a sense of wonder, imagination, creativity, it all blends and bonds with nature," Kelly said. "That's how we get paid. We get paid when we get to interact with the hearts of the children, who come here and it made their day. This is just a magical place for them."

Beth Kelly and Julie Gould, who volunteered to be "Keepers and Makers" of the Fairy Trail. CBS News
View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.