Over the last 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to make significant changes in our daily routines. After mandatory shutdowns moved us into virtual learning, remote office work and indoor isolation for months, many of us discovered a newfound appreciation for the space and beauty of the natural world around us and everything it has to offer.
However, for individuals with developmental disabilities, exploring our environment can be intimidating and downright challenging. My son, Michael, shares this experience along with so many other people. That’s why I was excited to visit the new Autism Nature Trail inside Letchworth State Park, located 45 minutes south of Rochester, earlier this month with my family to explore everything the trail has to offer. The new ADA-compliant trail breaks down these barriers and provides an opportunity for people with disabilities to experience the benefits of the great outdoors.
The trail was constructed thanks to the fundraising efforts of the Campaign to Build the Autism Nature Trail (ANT) and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. It includes a mile-long loop with eight sensory-friendly stations and skill-building activities for people of all ages and abilities. Additionally, a range of unique features and signage was integrated into the trail’s foundation so the experience is comforting and welcoming to all. Studies show that young people with autism are more likely to be socially isolated and disconnected from the outside world, so creating spaces like this trail is critical to their health and wellness. Thanks to the partnership between the Campaign to Build the ANT and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, we have another excellent addition to the Finger Lakes region and a safe place for people with disabilities to explore nature.
Creating an ADA-compliant trail in Letchworth State Park marks an important milestone toward ensuring everyone can take advantage of New York’s beautiful parks. Bringing similar projects to locations all across the state is a top priority for me because everyone should have the ability to enjoy the outdoors with their family. I congratulate everyone who helped make this trail a reality, and I’ll continue to do all that I can to help more ADA-complaint trails be built in our state parks.