NYS Parks, Recreation, Historic Preservation

Advances Goals of 2021 State of the State

One-mile loop will feature eight sensory stations offering a range of experiences from quiet engagement to active exploration and adventure

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced today that construction has started on a first-of-its kind nature trail at Letchworth State Park designed for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities. The Autism Nature Trail is part of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s 2021 State of the State agenda to reimagine, rebuild and renew New York State, including enhancing New York State Parks.

The Campaign to Build the Autism Nature Trail (ANT), with support from the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, has raised $3 million toward a full $3.7 million goal. Fundraising will continue to establish an endowment for long-term maintenance and programming on the mile-long trail, which is designed to address the sensory needs of people with ASD, a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.

“The overwhelming response to the fundraising campaign for this important new destination at Letchworth State Park is impressive and exciting,” State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said. “Designed by experts, the Autism Nature Trail will be a safe and inclusive space outdoors where all are welcome to experience the physical, emotional and social benefits of outdoor recreation. I am tremendously grateful to the many donors and partners who have joined this effort to overcome some of the barriers to outdoor recreation.”

The fundraising campaign was managed by the Natural Heritage Trust on behalf of State Parks. The trust is a not-for-profit corporation that receives and administers gifts, grants and contributions to further public programs for parks, recreation, cultural, land and water conservation and historic preservation purposes.

“Isolation due to the coronavirus has taught us that being in nature is our saving grace, and New York State parks have remained opened throughout the pandemic,” said Campaign for ANT Co-chair and co-founder Loren Penman. “But for those who feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or even unsafe in environments where certain behaviors are not understood and special needs cannot be met, the ADA-compliant and inclusive Autism Nature Trail at Letchworth State Park encourages all visitors to

experience the benefits of being more fully engaged with nature and with each other.” 

Activities along the Autism Nature Trail will support and encourage sensory perception, while also providing enjoyable activities for visitors of all abilities and ages. The trail loop will feature eight stations offering a range of experiences from quiet engagement to active exploration and adventure.

Planned stations include the Sunshine Slope – a gentle sloping maze in a natural clearing, the Music Circle – a circular grove of pine featuring nature-inspired instruments, and the Meadow Run & Climb – a dedicated space for running, jumping, climbing, balancing and testing strength, coordination and confidence. Specialized elements like cuddle swings, gliders, and “alone zones” are also planned for the trail, each created with the intent of providing a more inclusive environment for visitors of many different needs and abilities. Adjacent to the Humphrey Nature Center at Letchworth State Park, the trail and stations will be marked with signage telling visitors what to expect as they approach each curve of the trail and station – an important addition creating purposeful consistency and predictability for visitors.

Statistics show that young people with autism spend disproportionate amounts of time indoors, often finding comfort in digital activities which results in social isolation. This disconnectedness not only affects individuals with ASD but also can affect caregivers and entire families. The ANT is designed as a series of accessible and safe outdoor spaces in nature, yet far from the distractions and often overwhelming stimuli of everyday outside life.

The Campaign to Build the Autism Nature Trail at Letchworth State Park is supported by several organizational partners within New York State, including the Natural Heritage TrustCamp Puzzle PeaceLetchworth State ParkPerry Central School District and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation. For more information or to contribute to ongoing work to fund quality programming at the site, visit: https://autismnaturetrail.com/.

Letchworth State Park is one of the most scenically magnificent areas in the eastern U.S. The Genesee River roars through the gorge over three major waterfalls between cliffs - as high as 600 feet in some places - surrounded by lush forests. Hikers can choose from 66 miles of hiking trails. Trails are also available for horseback riding, biking, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing.

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 individual parks, historic sites, recreational trails and boat launches, which were visited by a record 77 million people in 2019. A recent university study found that spending by State Parks and its visitors supports $5 billion in output and sales, 54,000 private-sector jobs and more than $2.8 billion in additional state GDP. For more information on any of these recreation areas, visit www.parks.ny.gov, download the free NY State Parks Explorer mobile app or call 518.474.0456. Also, connect with us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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Contact:

Dan Keefe  | Brian Nearing
(518) 486-1868 | news@parks.ny.gov