Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Overlooking the Falls and Wyoming County:
Autism trail to get national exposure
as PBS host Samantha Brown films
on Livingston County side of the Park

Excitement was in the air at the Humphrey Nature Center at Letchworth State Park last week as the PBS show “Samantha Brown’s Places to Love” filmed a segment about the new autism trail. “She films all over the world,” said Gail Serventi, one of the trail’s co-founders. The filming was scheduled to take place on May 13. However, restrictions from the show and ongoing work on the trail did not allow for any photographs to be taken during it’s production.

Brown later posted about her experience filming in Livingston County in a series of Instagram posts, including one that indicated the episode would air in January 2022. “Samantha Brown’s Places to Love” has completed four seasons on PBS stations nationwide. The Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard was also a filming location, with Brown posting several images from the Abbey, including one in which she related a conversation with Father Isaac.

“With the whole planet going thru this pandemic I asked his advice to those of us who aren’t used to large periods of isolation and contemplation ...and how we go forward with that experience? His reply came from his 30 years of devotion. I wish I could remember it as plain spoken and beautiful as he said it. (Luckily the cameras were rolling) But I guess the best way to sum it up is —-In a world where everyone is making noise, trust silence,” Brown wrote in the Instagram post.

⠀Letchworth State Park’s Autism Nature Trail – also known as The ANT – is the first of its kind in the United States but organizers are hoping it won’t be the last.

“We are envisioning that it could possibly be a model for other state parks,” said Serventi. The trail is under construction near the Nature Center and will be one mile in length. “We wanted to make it clear that you could never get lost on the trail,” said Loren Penman, another trail co-founder. “You see at the beginning where you are going to end up.”

Along the way there will be sensory markers to help people focus on their abilities, not their disabilities.

“The more we got into it, the more we discovered that this was going to be a trail that was going to be great for everyone,” said Penman. “We made it ADA compliant, we added some features that might appeal to older people, to persons with limited hearing, vision, dementia and people with anxiety.” Even the path of the trail was designed with people’s footing in mind.

“There are 37 markers along the way that indicate you are on the right way. The surface is a compacted stone dust, so that you feel it underfoot,” Penman explained. “Even with a vision issue, if you stray from the trail you are going to immediately feel it.”

Money to pay for the project has all come from private donations, with no help from state or federal grants. Penman said, so far, $3 million has been raised, though they’re aiming for $3.7 million “because we want to endow it forever. A ribbon-cutting is planned for early fall. Work on the trail is still being done and while it may take a few more months to complete, Serventi said they are hoping the publicity from the PBS show will not only help to increase tourism to Letchworth State Park but the entire area.

“Once people hear the word about it they will come,” she said. “We are thinking it will bring people to hotels and coming off of (Interstate) 390 to Geneseo it will be a big boom to Geneseo and all throughout Livingston County.” With the increased business they are also hoping that people will become more educated about those with autism.

“It is just a different way of being. It is spectrum. Some persons on the spectrum find it difficult to do certain things, while others excel,” said Penman. “As we got smarter about autism, we discovered that everyone has something that they are good [at] and something that they are not good at.” In the future, trail organizers are hoping not only people, but also towns, will become more accepting of those with autism.

“We have plans and can make some of the towns autism friendly towns, so that people can learn more about it,” Serventi said. “Autism awareness is one of the fundamental pieces that this trail will help to increase.”
Regional Editor Ben Beagle contributed to this report.

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