Letchworth State Park is making history by introducing the nation’s first-ever Americans with disabilities act (ADA) compliant trail, designed specifically for those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Located in the northwestern part of the State of New York, between Livingston County and Wyoming County, the massive park is referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” at roughly 17 miles long and spanning 14000+ acres. The state park is nationally ranked and reviewed as a travel destination must, but now the park is gaining national attention not only for its beauty but for the all-inclusive trail coming to Letchworth State Park this year.
The Autism Nature Trail, otherwise known as “The ANT” is a unique experience in nature, curated for those specifically with ASD and other developmental disabilities. “We have got to work on keeping these children engaged with the world,” said Dr. Temple Grandin, a well-known trailblazer for autism awareness, and an original advisor for The ANT. According to Dr. Grandin, The ANT is first-of-its-kind, and nothing exactly like this exists in the world. While the trail has been designed for visitors with ASD and other disabilities, The ANT is ADA-compliant and will be enjoyable for all ages, abilities, and people.
Spending time in nature and being able to explore the sights, sounds, and smells of the outside world is something everyone should be able to do. If the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that nature and the outdoors will always be there for people to escape to. Unfortunately, those with varying developmental disabilities are often left to stay inside since most parks/public areas are not fully accessible to them. The need for accessible outdoor activities for those with ASD is prominent, and Letchworth State Park, alongside its team of advisors and supporters are working to make that happen.
Statistics show that about 1 in every Unfortunately, young people with developmental disabilities are spending more time inside using devices or watching TV and being isolated from the rest of the world. Joe Mantegna, famous actor and autism activist is an honorary board member for The ANT. “This unique form of direct and accepting engagement with nature in a world-class park adds a new dimension of exposure, with the potential of providing a lifetime of meaningful and fulfilling experiences,” said Mantegna, noting The ANT will not only serve as a learning experience for those that visit, but it is a getaway for those who are typically isolated inside.
The trail is a one-mile loop with eight sensory stations. These stations offer a range of experiences from active adventure to peaceful engagement. Visitors can expect to experience the “Sunshine Slope,” a gentle sloping maze in a natural clearing; the “Music Circle,” a circular grove of pine trees featuring nature-inspired instruments; and the “Meadow Run and Climb,” a dedicated space for running, jumping, climbing, balancing and testing strength, coordination and confidence. Along the trail loop, there are also specialized elements like cuddle swings, gliders, and “alone zones.” “I’m glad that my suggestions for the Autism Nature Trail have been integrated into the final design and overall plan. The Trailhead Pavilion as a pre-walk station is important, since many autistic children need to know what they’re getting into before they will engage. Cuddle swings and gliders are good choices for movement,” said Dr. Grandin who has helped with creating The ANT and its sensory stations.
After completing the trail, visitors can enjoy a delicious meal at the newly renovated Caroline’s Dining Room, located at the historic Glen Iris Inn, a Rich Entertainment Group managed operation. The restaurant overlooks Middle Falls in Letchworth State Park, making it a breathtaking dining experience. Take your time exploring this enormous and magnificent park, and enjoy a weekend stay to get the full experience. Choose from 16 rooms, or rent one of their many loft or lodges for a getaway filled with family fun! Denise Coffey, manager of the Glen Iris Inn says, “Our team at Glen Iris Inn is dedicated to ensuring an enjoyable experience for all of our guests.”
The Autism Nature Trail has been a community initiative that has involved a variety of experts including autism researchers, occupational and physical therapists, speech and language pathologists, educators, parks officials, architects and persons with ASD. The creation of The ANT has been made possible by a partnership with New York State officials, New York State Parks, the Natural Heritage Trust, Camp Puzzle Peace, and the Perry Central School District. The ANT has been completely privately funded by donations from businesses to local families and community members. Recently, the campaign received a $10,000 grant from Rich Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Rich Products Corp., one of western New York’s largest charitable foundations. “We are thrilled to have the support and investment of Rich Family Foundation in this very special project,” said Loren Penman, Co-Chair for The ANT. To date, the Campaign has raised $3.2 million of the total $3.7 million budget. The ANT is expected to open to the public Fall of 2021. The first of its kind, the Autism Nature Trail is 100% ADA compliant, so it’s accessible for everyone. Now, persons with ASD and other developmental disabilities can enjoy New York’s natural beauty in a state park that has neurodiversity and varying abilities in mind.
If you are interested in supporting The ANT, please visit the Autism Nature Trail website for more information and to donate to the GoFundMe Charity campaign for the trail.
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