New Nature Trail at New York State Park Aims to Bring the Outdoors to Those with Autism

The outdoors are a good place to rejuvenate, reset, and find peace of mind. A state park in New York is about to make that experience more accessible to people on the autism spectrum.

The Autism Nature Trail (ANT) at Letchworth State Park is an official New York State Parks project, scheduled to be completed next year. The trail, which is privately funded through donations, is just $700,000 shy of its $3.7 million goal.

ANT co-chair Loren Penman told the Livingston County News that they don’t need that full amount to open, but they do need it for their programming fund.

The trail is one-mile long and looped. It contains a variety of stations, including Trailhead Pavilion, Sensory Station, Sunshine Slope, Music Circle, Curiosity Corner, Reflection Point, Meadow Run & Climb, Design Area, Playful Path and Celebration Station.

PHOTO: FACEBOOK/THE AUTISM NATURE TRAIL AT LETCHWORTH STATE PARK

According to the project’s website, the stations’ features include twisting paths covered in different materials, like pea gravel and pine needles; dedicated spaces for testing strength, running, coordination, and other physical feats; and a quiet spot under a canopy of trees to listen to nature and reflect on it.

Penman says the trail is beneficial to locals but also for bringing a new experience to tourists with disabilities.

She explains, “Those of us who live in Letchworth’s backyard will benefit most directly due to our proximity to the trail. But The ANT also positions our entire region to become a tourist destination for families everywhere who are living with disabilities, since there is nothing quite like the trail anywhere in the country.”

PHOTO: FACEBOOK/THE AUTISM NATURE TRAIL AT LETCHWORTH STATE PARK

Those behind the project are very appreciative of the community support, which has helped raise more than $3 million. One of the most recent donations was $20,100 from photographer and New York news anchor John Kucko on December 21st. The money came from the proceeds from his 2021 Finger Lakes Region Calendar.

In a Facebook post, he said, “Groundbreaking for this one-of-a-kind trail, welcoming of folks of ALL abilities, will get underway in the coming weeks. Loren and Sue [co-chair Susan Herrnstein] have done an absolutely amazing job raising money the last few years to allow for this vision to become a reality. Loren put this on my radar three years ago and her passion for the project, along with Sue’s, is off the charts.”

PHOTO: FACEBOOK/JOHN KUCKO DIGITAL

ANT organizers are looking forward to ensuring that visitors with autism and other developmental disabilities have the chance to push boundaries, explore new activities, develop skills, and, of course, feel safe and comfortable.

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Penman says, “Isolation due to the coronavirus has taught us that being in nature is our saving grace, and New York state parks have remained open throughout the crisis. But we know that people can feel uncomfortable, unwelcome and even unsafe in environments where certain behaviors are not understood and special needs cannot be met. The Autism Nature Trail will be a safe and inclusive space outdoors where EVERYONE can experience the physical, emotional and social benefits of being more fully engaged with nature and with each other. Social distancing is easy in a 14,000-acre park.”

PHOTO: FACEBOOK/THE AUTISM NATURE TRAIL AT LETCHWORTH STATE PARK
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