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Autism Nature Trail opens at Letchworth State Park

The nation’s first nature trail specifically designed to address the sensory needs of those with autism spectrum disorder is now open at Letchworth State Park.

The new Autism Nature Trail is a one-mile hiking loop that includes eight sensory stations, each designed to address a different sensory experience in a safe and supportive environment. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul released a statement on Friday, when the trail officially opened, saying that, “State parks should be accessible to everyone, and this is a welcoming and inclusive place for an underserved community.”

As WXXI News reported in August, the trail was designed with the assistance of Temple Grandin, a famed scientist who has autism.  Loren Penman, a retired middle school principal from Batavia, is a co-founder of the trail, and she said the hope is that this trail will be widely replicated.

State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said that the state saw this trail “as an opportunity to offer something to the ASD (autism spectrum disorder) community, while also offering something to the neurotypical population, for them to experience autism through proximity … in an atmosphere of tolerance and coming together, rather than separation.”

Last month, Autism Nature Trail supporters marked the sudden loss of one of the project’s early advocates, co-founder Susan Herrnstein. Her family has requested that any donations in her memory be made to the Autism Nature Trail through the Natural Heritage Trust.

WXXI reporter James Brown and photojournalist Max Schulte contributed to this story.

This story is reported from WXXI’s Inclusion Desk.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.