Visitors to The Autism Nature Trail at Letchworth State Park can now enjoy a fun-filled weekend.
A themed-weekend program began Saturday, May 7, and will run for 22 weekends, said Jen Hackett, executive director of Camp Puzzle Peace, one of the trail partners.
“The ANT is a first-of-its-kind experience in nature designed for visitors on the autism spectrum and with a range of abilities — appropriate and enjoyable for all abilities and ages,” according to the trail website. The trail is a one-mile loop with different stations for exploration.
Hackett has been a special education teacher for 27 years, and when thinking of the curriculum for The ANT, she said she drew inspiration from her students over the years.
“They don’t get a really rich curriculum,” she said, “but being able to take away the walls of the school, and branch into more ways to learn differently, is one way that they can learn and enrich their education.”
The themes revolve around topics involving nature. For example, this coming weekend is called ”Local Critter Life Cycle.” There are other topics in the upcoming weeks that will allow kids to explore many different aspects of nature.
All of the programs are interest-based, Hackett said, such as ones that combine Legos and Minecraft with nature. Hackett said she wants the theme programs to provide enrichment and to help promote people who may be more inclined to do indoor activities to get out and connect with nature.
Having this trail and being able to see kids do these activities can also help parents and families who may have kids on the autism spectrum.
Special education teachers and advocates are there to not only help kids who are on the spectrum, but are there as a support system for the parents and families.
“It’s hard to show action,” Hackett said. “Taking your children there, or anyone for that matter, and being able to see the different activities that The ANT has to offer can help families incorporate those activities or similar ones into their own lives and homes.”
The ANT has many partners that team up and collaborate to make the trail as inclusive and fun as it can be.
Those that are partnered are Natural Heritage Trust, Camp Puzzle Peace, Letchworth State Park, Perry Central School District, and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation.
During the weekend when the programs or events are taking place, there are two certified educators available. When programs are not running, trail staff is present.
Last weekend there were approximately 400 people who came to see and walk the trail.
“I’m super excited, it’s going to be a great season,” Hackett said.
Maya Borer, Staff Reporter