New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation


Castile, NY

Key Contact

Kim Edited 1
Kimberly Michaels, RLA, LEED AP Vice President, Director of Landscape Architecture

Letchworth State Park, renowned as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” is one of the most scenically magnificent areas in the eastern United States. However, like most outdoor recreational facilities, the Park was lacking in safe, inclusive areas for individuals with autism or other related disabilities to experience and explore nature.

The Autism Nature Trail (ANT) is the first nature trail designed specifically to be fully accessible and welcoming for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For individuals with ASD, a walk in the woods may cause anxiety and fear, instead of peacefulness and solace — but the ANT removes this barrier by providing a safe space for people of all abilities, ages, and needs.

The one-mile looped main trail, which is ADA-compliant, includes eight stations at various intervals, offering a range of experiences from quiet engagement to active exploration and adventure. This design provides opportunities for education, inspiration, and insight in an environment welcoming to those with ASD and other disabilities. A series of independent play and learning stations incorporates the natural surroundings to promote visual, auditory, and tactile exploration.

TWM, a Fisher Associates Landscape Architecture Studio, led the project as prime consultant from conceptualization through design and construction. TWM coordinated the work of an architectural subconsultant and served as a bridge between NYS Parks and the project founders and fundraisers. Utilizing their technical expertise designing innovative play spaces, Fisher brought the project’s conceptual goals to life while adhering to the stringent design requirements for public spaces in order to meet all applicable codes. Key to the design vision was the preservation of the existing forest during trail development for the natural embedded experience it provides.

The primary trail runs in a sinuous loop from which each station extends into the surrounding forest, starting with the Trailhead Pavilion and ending with Celebration Station. The eight station experiences are designed to move from the tactile and sensory based (Sensory Station) to the more physically active (Meadow Run & Climb Station) as the user explores the trail. Each station also incorporates “alone zones,” which provide a quiet moment for reflection, observation, and calm. The ANT received the 2022 Honor Award for Built Design from the New York Upstate Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

Project Photos

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