All posts by New York State Parks

Get Out and Explore … The Allegany Region of New York state Parks

Spanning Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties at New York’s wild southwestern border with Pennsylvania, this region contains the largest State Park – the 65,000-acre Allegany State Park.

The region also has a dramatic shoreline along Lake Erie that contains a historic lighthouse and is important habitat for many migratory waterfowl. This area is a wonderful place to experience dramatic sunsets over the lake.

Any successful hike starts with a good map. Maps for hiking trails and a variety of other useful information on State Parks, including those in the Allegany region and other regions, are now available on the NYS Parks Explorer app.  The free app, which is available for use on Android and iOS devices, is easy to download, user friendly and allows patrons to have park information readily available.

Trail maps are also available on each individual park website page at parks.ny.gov and at the main office of each park. Links to maps are also included in the trail descriptions in this post. Be sure to download maps ahead of time or carry a paper copy as a back up

As with all hikes, there are a few things to remember beyond carrying a mobile phone. Check the weather forecast before you go, and dress appropriately. Wear sturdy, yet comfortable shoes or boots, bring enough water and snacks, and perhaps carry a camera to capture what you see. Be aware of your surroundings and mindful of hikes on steep terrain or those that go near cliff tops. Having a small first-aid kit available in case of an emergency is never a bad idea.

Hiking poles are also useful and can transfer some of the stress of hiking from your knees and legs to your arms and back.

Hikers should plan their route in advance, know how long a trail is and how long it ought to take to finish. If weather conditions change for the worse, be prepared to turn back. Don’t let “summit fever” (a desire to reach a specific destination) make you press on. Since daylight is not an unlimited resource, even in spring and summer when days are longer, tossing a flashlight or headlamp into your backpack is a good form of insurance, should you unexpectedly find yourself on the trail as dusk approaches.

State Park facilities are carry-in, carry-out, so don’t leave trash behind. Follow Leave No Trace principles to keep trails clean for everyone.

Additionally, as incidents of tick-borne diseases surge in the state, it is always important to check yourself for ticks after being outside, even if it is only time spent in your own backyard.

Lastly, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, remember to practice safe social distancing, particularly in parking lots and at trailheads, and use face coverings when a distance of six feet cannot be maintained, even if you have been vaccinated.  To learn more about important COVID safety guidelines, CLICK HERE.

Cattaraugus County


Allegany State Park, 2373 ASP Route 1, Salamanca, NY (716) 354-9101: This 65,000-acre park offers an outdoor paradise with forests, mountains, meadows, amazing rock formations, three lakes and numerous streams and ponds. The park’s two developed areas – Red House and Quaker – have more than 90 miles of hiking trails and naturalist walks. Here are some staff picks.

Located on the park’s Quaker side, the Blacksnake Mountain Trail is one of the oldest trails in the park with a unique history. Parts of the trail follow the 1888 section of A&K Railroad (Allegheny & Kinzua), which is evident in the gentle slope on the north side of the three-mile loop. In 1933, the professors of the Allegany School of Natural History (located near Science Lake) mapped out a hiking trail they officially named the “Nature Hiking Trail” to conduct their field studies with their students.  It was later renamed “Blacksnake Mountain Hiking Trail” in 1980 after Governor Blacksnake, an Iroquois Indian chief for the Seneca Nation of Indians, who allied with the United States in the War of 1812.

The trail crosses several streams with new bridges, and a short steep climb leads to mature black cherry trees estimated to be between 100 and 130 years old. Cucumber magnolia, tulip trees and hemlock are other trees of interest along the way. This is a favorite trail for spring wildflower lovers. Trillium, Dutchmen’s breeches, squirrel corn, and spring beauties are just a few of the ephemerals that announce the changing of the seasons. Near the top of the trail, look for a granite milestone marker which represents the border of New York and Pennsylvania, where you can put a foot in each state. 

In this slideshow, start with the old railroad grade, then see the new bridge at Murray Brook, a painted trillium and the granite marker marking the New York/Pennsylvania border.

Bear Paw Hiking Trail is named after a style of snowshoe used by Native Americans and was originally designed as an interpretive snowshoe trail in 2015 by park naturalists. The 2.4-mile trail starts at the rear of the Summit Area parking lot. Look for brown numbered markers which highlight unique flora such as ground cedar, various hardwoods, and lowbush blueberries. Halfway along Bear Paw, at the end of the loop, hikers will be treated to the masterfully built Stone Tower, an Allegany State Park landmark, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934. The tower offers beautiful views of large open valleys, the city of Salamanca and Red House Lake.

User the slider bar to compare the view from above Stone Tower (left) to a sunset view from just below the Tower (right).

The second half of the trail traverses the south side of the ridge, through beech and maple forests and into a meadow. Depending on the time of the year, hikers may get to sample low bush blueberries or wintergreen growing in this area. The last section has a short, steep incline that adds a bit of challenge. Bear Paw ends at the Summit Warming hut.

Find a map of this trail here.


The 5.2-mile Robert C. Hoag Bicycle Path is named after the former Seneca Nation President and was dedicated in June 1990. Starting at the Red House entrance of the park, the path passes old apple trees and large stands of spruce and Scotch pine, along with many varieties of hardwoods, shrubs and wildflowers. The most used part of the path is around Red House Lake, where a 3.4-mile trail offers the potential to spot such wildlife as beaver, muskrat, great blue heron, and many species of waterfowl. Spurs off the trail lead to the Red House Wetland Interpretive Complex, Beehunter Cabin Trail and Camp Allegany. Several benches are located along the way to relax and enjoy the surrounding beauty.

The Thomas L. Kelley Bridge along the bike path.
Use the slider bar to compare Red House Lake, with a view of the spillway and dam (left), to a sunset over the lake (right).

Work on the new Quaker Multi Use Trail began in the summer of 2020 between the Taft cabin and the Quaker General Store. The second phase will start this season, and will continue the trail Quaker Lake Beach.  Once complete, the trail will offer five miles of accessible paths winding though woodlands and fields along ASP Route 3 and Quaker Lake, including several scenic crossings of Quaker Run.


Find maps to Allegany State Park here and here.


Pat McGee Trail, Little Valley, (716) 354-9101: The recently-acquired 12.1-mile Pat McGee Trail connects the city of Salamanca and village of Cattaraugus. This multi-use trail along a former rail bed has connections with the current Finger Lakes Trail System, which has about 1,000 miles of trails in southern and western New York, and the truly sprawling North Country Scenic Trail, which in turn provide links to Allegany State Park and the Allegany National Forest in Pennsylvania. Named for former state Sen. Pat McGee, the trail opened in 2005 and is used for bicycling, hiking, snowmobiling, and horseback riding. It features a 1.8-acre community park with pavilion and two gazebos in Little Valley, along with five trailheads with parking areas. It also contains six former rail bridges that were rehabilitated for trail use.

One of the former rail bridges along the Pat McGee Trail.

Find a map here.

Chautauqua County


Long Point State Park, 4459 Route 430, Bemus Point, (716) 386-2722: A one-mile loop, the multi-use Minturn Trail leads to the point of a peninsula that extends into Lake Chautauqua. Some of the sites along the trail include the house foundation of the former Minturn Mansion, wildlife viewing areas and various fishing access points. The marina area at the end of the trail features a boat launch and spaces to sit by the lake. The trail is a popular place for many different activities including hiking, fishing, birdwatching, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing.

Find a trail map here.

The Minturn Trail is gentle and popular among hikers of all abilities.

A great blue heron (left) and a much-smaller kingfisher (right) share a branch at the lake.

The marina on Lake Chautauqua as seen from the trail.

Lake Erie State Park, 5838 NY-5, Brocton, (716) 792-9214: Hike the East Trail and from the bluffs explore sights of the shallowest Great Lake. This wide trail is great for families and beginner hikers featuring breathtaking sights of Lake Erie and a vernal pool tucked along the wooded path. This multiuse trail is commonly shared with disk golfers and migratory bird watchers. Wildlife commonly seen at Lake Erie State Park includes the common tern, red headed woodpecker, black squirrel, deer and bald eagle.

There are spectacular wide-angle views of Lake Erie from the East Trail. A great place to catch the sunset.
Relax in a shaded gazebo along the East trail as you take in lake views.

Find a trail map here.


Cover shot- Red House Lake at Allegany State Park. All photos by NYS Parks.

Get Out and Explore Other Regions in New York State Parks

The “Get Out and Explore” series outlines staff-recommended hikes in other regions of New York, including Genesee, Finger Lakes, Central, Palisades, Taconic, Saratoga/Capital and Thousand Islands.

Gathering Memories at Grafton Lakes State Park

It’s July 1st, 1971. Nelson Rockefeller is governor of New York State, “It’s too Late” by Carole King is number one on the music charts, and gas is 40 cents a gallon. In the eastern part of the state, just shy of the Vermont border, a new state park opens in Rensselaer County, welcoming swimmers onto a monumental 1,000-foot beach.

Michael Hogan is an 18-year-old lifeguard at the new Grafton Lakes State Park, earning $1.76 an hour to keep watch over that beach with two other lifeguards, Sandy Town from Pittstown and Paul R. Jones, who everyone called “Buzz.”

Recalling the day 50 years later for the Grafton Lakes State Park’s new oral history project, Hogan remembers that his team performed a simulated rescue that aired that evening on an Albany television station covering the park opening, which was attended by State Parks Commissioner Dr. Sal J. Prezioso and other dignitaries.

Located in the heart of the Rensselaer Plateau, the new park included five lakes, 1,850 acres, a concession stand, and a park office. Hogan worked at Grafton for seven years, and now is retired and living in Rensselaer County.

This dawning of a new park was followed shortly by the end of another era at Grafton, when the Dickinson Fire Tower was shut down in 1972 after 48 years in service. One of the tower’s observers, who looked out from atop the 60-foot tower for signs of fire, was Grafton resident Helen Ellett. She was one of a handful of state female fire observers and was assigned to Dickinson from 1943 to 1965 to call in signs of fire in that heavily forested region.

Helen Ellett, top, sight down her orienteering equipment in the cabin atop the Dickinson Fire Tower at Grafton Lakes State Park.

According to Linda Laveway, Ellett’s granddaughter and another participant in Grafton’s oral history project, Ellett was a staunchly independent woman. Long days in the tower were no deterrent for Helen who felt pride every time she raised the American flag, knowing that through her work, she would be helping to save people’s livelihoods and possibly their very lives.

Helen Ellett was one of five women hired to be fire observers at Grafton between 1942 and its closing in 1972. When Ellett was hired in 1943 at age 29, she earned $100 a month, and was a young mother with a daughter. She usually rode one of her horses eight miles to work from where she lived in Grafton. At the tower, she was kept company by her dog, Tippy, and for a short time, her pet raccoon, Soggy.

Tippy and Soggy enjoy a moment.
Helen Ellett and her trusty ride to work.

In 1965, she wrote about her experiences in an article titled “Sitting on Top of the World,” in which she described her initial training by a ranger to use spotting equipment to estimate the location of a potential fire. When she returned to the tower the next day alone and began to climb, she had to  “admit the 81 steps seemed like Jacob’s ladder going to heaven … I finally reached the top and tried to open the lock with one hand to hang on with the other; I have never looked but I would not be surprised if my fingers left imprints on the steel railing. That was a long time ago. After a few trips up and down, I didn’t mind at all.”

In her last year of service in the tower in 1965, Ellett reported nine fires and 209 visitors to the towers. At that time, she was earning $122.09 bi-weekly.

After being shuttered for years, the Dickinson Fire Tower was restored by the Friends of Grafton Lakes State Park and reopened in 2012, giving visitors the sweeping vistas that Ellett and other fire observers had. Now a popular hike at the park, the tower was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011 and is the last remaining fire tower in the county.

Helen Ellett, bottom center, helps cut the ribbon at the 2012 reopening of the fire tower to the public.
A visitor takes in the view at the fire tower.

How quickly 50 years have passed since opening day of the beach and park! Grafton Lakes park has now expanded to include more than 2,500 acres, 25 miles of trails, and six lakes, along with a new Welcome Center. The park spans both sides of Route 2 and is a favored place for kayakers, canoeists, and those who like to fish.

Amenities also include biking, boat launches and rentals, equestrian trails, fishing, hunting, pavilions and shelter rentals, playgrounds, and showers, During winter months, there is snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Over the last decade, about a quarter-million people a year annually have visited the park, so over five decades, totaling many millions of visits since 1971.

There is something for everyone at Grafton Lakes, no matter the season. Check out this slideshow below for some ideas…

With so many visitors and so many memories, Parks staff at Grafton is encouraging those who want to participate to come forward and share these tales for posterity in a mini-movie that will debut on the park’s beach the evening July 1st to mark the 50th anniversary. The event that day will also include an art gallery, historical walks, a photo scrapbook, and interpretive panels.

Those who want to visit the Dickinson fire tower will have a chance to meet Linda Laveway, take in the dramatic view, and learn more about her grandmother and the days of the fire observers. Retired, Linda still resides in Grafton and is an active member of the community.

Park staff will hold video interviews for anyone with Grafton memories during April and May. To participate in the oral history project or any 50th anniversary activity, contact the park by email: graftonlakesadmin@parks.ny.gov or phone: 518-279-1155.

You can follow Grafton Lakes State Park on Facebook here. Hope to see you there July 1st as we look back over the last 50 years and make new memories for the years to come!


Cover shot – Kayakers paddle past the beach at Grafton Lakes State Park. All photos by NYS Parks.

Post by Tamara Beal, Environmental Educator, Grafton Lakes State Park

Grafton Lake State Park is holding an event May 1 for I Love My Park Day. Find details here.

Learn more about the history of the Dickinson Fire Tower at Grafton Lakes State Park here..

Get out and explore … The Genesee Region of New York state Parks

Situated along western Lake Ontario’s shore and inland, this region includes Letchworth State Park, also widely known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” as well as a 90-mile trail on a former canal towpath, an ecologically-important lake marsh, and some spectacular lakeshore sunsets.

Covering Genesee, Orleans, Monroe, Livingston and Wyoming counties, this region includes seven state parks and two boat launches, one on Lake Ontario and the other on Conesus Lake.

Letchworth State Park is the region’s 14,350-acre masterpiece, featuring a wild 17-mile gorge carved by the Genesee River tumbling over waterfalls and meandering through the heart of the park, providing spectacular views at every turn.

Maps for hiking trails and a variety of other useful information on State Parks, including those in the Genesee Regoin and elsewhere, are now available on the NYS Parks Explorer app.  The free app, which is available for use on Android and iOS devices, is easy to download, user friendly and allows patrons to have park information readily available.

Trail maps are also available on each individual park website page at parks.ny.gov and at the main office of each park. Be sure to download maps ahead of time or carry a paper copy as a back up

To learn more about NYS Parks trails CLICK HERE.  

As with all hikes, there are a few things to remember beyond carrying a mobile phone. Check the weather forecast before you go, and dress appropriately. Wear sturdy, yet comfortable shoes or boots, bring water and snacks, and perhaps carry a camera to capture what you see. Be aware of your surroundings and mindful of hikes on steep terrain or those that go near cliff tops. Having a small first-aid kit available in case of an emergency is never a bad idea.

For longer trips, hiking poles are also useful and can transfer some of the stress of hiking from your knees and legs to your arms and back.

Hikers should plan their route in advance, know how long a trail is and how long it ought to take to finish. Since daylight is not an unlimited resource, even in spring as the days grow longer, tossing a flashlight or headlamp into your backpack is a good form of insurance, should you unexpectedly find yourself on the trail as dusk approaches.

Parks facilities are carry-in, carry-out, so don’t leave trash behind. Follow Leave No Trace principles to keep trails clean for everyone.

Additionally, as incidents of tick-borne diseases surge in the state, it is always important to check yourself for ticks after being outside, even if it is only time spent in your own backyard. Spring can be a risky time as the tick nymphs are emerging. Nymphs are tiny and difficult to spot.

Lastly, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, remember to practice safe social distancing, particularly in parking lots and at trailheads, and use face coverings when a distance of six feet cannot be maintained, even if you have been vaccinated.  To learn more about important COVID safety guidelines, CLICK HERE.

Livingston County/Wyoming County


Letchworth State Park, 1 Letchworth State Park, Castile (585) 493-3600: Carved by the immense forces of ice and water during the last Ice Age, this sprawling park resides in both Livingston and Wyoming counties. Within Wyoming County lies much of the original 1,000 acres that was a gift from William Pryor Letchworth in 1907 that can be seen from the seven-mile Gorge Trail. This trail travels past his beloved Upper, Middle and Lower Falls.

(Clockwise from bottom left) Middle Falls, Gorge Trail view from Inspiration Point, Gorge Trail View of Great Bend Gorge, Lower Falls, Upper Falls.

The Gorge Trail has many spectacular views of Sehgahunda (The Vale of Three Falls). The Portage Canyon represents a recent detour by the Genesee River since the last Ice Age some 10,000 years ago from its ancient pre-glacial valley south of Portageville. The Gorge trail also passes a 100,000 year-old interglacial valley known as Lee’s Landing. At the Great Bend Gorge, the trail overlooks a section of gorge that is about 550 feet deep and a quarter-mile wide.

At the north end of the park, find the five-mile Highbanks Trail (listed as Trail #20 on the park map), which offers its own breathtaking views of the gorge. Highlights include great views of the Mt. Morris Dan, the largest concrete dam east of the Mississippi River which was built in the early 1950s to protect the city of Rochester from flooding. This trail also affords views of the unique ridge feature known as the Hogsback, and of numerous stream crossings. This trail is a one-way out and back.

This section of the park includes the Highbanks Tent and Trailer Campground, the C-Cabin loop, and the G.W. Harvey Swimming Pool.

The Hogsback from the Gorge Trail at the north end of the park.
Mt Morris Dam (Photo Credit – Livingston County Historical Society)

Find maps to Allegany State Park here and here.


Monroe County


Genesee Valley Greenway State Park, 1 Letchworth State Park, Castile, (585) 493-3614: This unique linear park is a 90-mile multi-use trail with one end in Monroe County and the other in Cattaraugus County. The route mainly follows the old towpath of the Genesee Valley Canal, which was in operation from 1840 until the late 1870s, and remnants of the old canal can still be seen. Come to stroll, hike or bike any part of of this trail.

The Greenway Trail affords beautiful scenic views and historic sights, including a well preserved canal lock in Scottsville (Monroe County), crossing the Genesee River along a footbridge in Mount Morris (Livingston County), observing a beautiful oxbow feature in Portageville (Wyoming County), secluded woods walking in Belfast (Allegany County), and gorgeous mountain views in Hinsdale (Cattaraugus County). Be sure to check out the communities found long the route of the Greenway for some great local fare.

The Genesee Valley Greenway trail goes past remnants of former Genesee Valley Canal Lock No. 2 in Scottville.

(Clockwise from bottom left) The trail passes an oxbow pond in Portageville, crosses the Genesee River in Mount Morris, and enters forest in Belfast.

Find a trail map here.

Hamlin Beach State Park, 1 Hamlin Beach Blvd. West, Hamlin (585) 964-2462: Located on Lake Ontario with a sandy swimming beach, this park also has several miles of hiking trails.

One of the most unique is the Yanty Marsh Trail, which features a boardwalk within a freshwater marsh rich in wildlife and plants, including cattails, pickerelweed, willow and milkweeds; some 200 species of birds, and frogs, snapping turtles, snakes, muskrats, beavers, mink, fox, racoon and deer.

Yanty Marsh Trail

The flat, accessible trail of one mile is also linked to the park’s history during the Great Depression when President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps to put unemployed men back to work on projects that included creation of Hamlin Beach State Park. Relics of the CCC still are visible throughout the park. This includes and old farm pound once used by the CCC men for ice skating located just off the trail. When a 1998 storm severely damaged the marsh, opening it up to the damaging effects of erosion, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stepped in to assure the marsh wasn’t washed away forever. With control measures implemented, the marsh now fulfils its ecological role, to filtering toxins from run off into the lake, storing oxygen from our atmosphere, as wells as providing a home to many species of plants and animals.

The Devil’s Nose Trail along the lakeshore bluff offers beautiful views and a colorful history. Much folklore has been spun about Devil’s Nose and the suspected shipwrecks caused by the unique land feature. The name “Devil’s Nose” dates to 1802 but the origin of the name remains a mystery. At one time the nose was 150 feet tall and reached northward into the lake a quarter mile. A red lantern once marked the tip of the nose as a warning to passing vessels. Today the nose has all but collapsed but the shallow reef and large costal bluff remains. Although the reports of shipwrecks on the nose remain unproven, it is known that during the age of prohibition smugglers used the Nose’s coves and passages to smuggle goods and hide from authorities. After being closed for years due to overuse and erosion, the trail was refurbished and reopened in 2018. Patrons can access the trail through Area 5. A wonderful spot to watch summer sunsets, but please stay on the trail, as the banks are steep and fragile.

Devil’s Nose Trail

Find a trail map here.


Genesee County


Darien Lakes State Park, 10475 Harlow Road, Darien Center (585) 547-9242: The hilly woodlands of this park contain nearly nine miles of hiking trails, as well as a sandy swimming beach to sunbathe or swim once a hike is done.

The two-mile Conservation Trail has a new lean-to ready for use, while as the southern end of the trail there is a picturesque waterfall. The trail goes by woodlands, fields and streams, offering views of a variety of wildflowers, trees, birds, insects and other interesting critters.

Find a trail map here.

Cover shot – Great Bend Gorge at Letchworth State Park. All photos courtesy of NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.


Learn more about hiking trails in other parts of the state in the continuing “Get Out and Explore…” series, including the Finger Lakes, Thousand Islands, Saratoga/ Capital, Central New York, Palisades, and Taconic regions.

A Challenging Jewel Transformed at Niagara Falls State Park

Thundering waterfalls! Dangerous rapids! Towering ice! Quicksand!

If it sounds like the plot of a Hollywood adventure movie, these engineering obstacles surmounted during the rebuilding of the nation’s oldest state park at Niagara Falls fit the bill.

Recently, the American Society of Civil Engineers recognized this massive, seven year, nearly $65 million revitalization project at Niagara Falls State Park as one of nine nationwide nominees for its Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award.

Established in 1960, this prestigious award honors the project that best illustrates superior civil engineering skills and represents a significant contribution to civil engineering progress and society. Honoring an overall project rather than an individual, the award recognizes the contributions of many engineers.  

Other past winners and nominees have included the new World Trade Center, Cowboys Stadium and seismic protection upgrades to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

This nomination for Niagara Falls recognized the complex and dangerous challenges in working in a place where 45 million of gallons of water a minute cascade over the 167-foot waterfalls and where freezing temperatures turn water into thick coats of ice. And that this work had to be done while the park remained open year-round to millions of visitors who come from all over the world.

A portion of the viewing area of the American Falls. In the distance (upper center), are the viewing areas at Luna Island and Goat Island. Horseshoe Falls is in the upper distance. (Photo Credit – NYS Parks)

Overseen by the global engineering firm of T.Y. Lin International, work at the park involved 21 separate projects, including bridges, roads, parking, pathways, observation areas, railings, landscaping, electrical, mechanical and drainage systems all spread across the 400-acre facility, its three waterfalls – American, Bridal Veil, and Horseshoe – and its five islands – Luna, Goat and Three Sisters. The entire park is now ADA-compliant, and accessible to all.

To start, engineers initially had to inspect the condition of the existing infrastructure at America’s oldest state park, established in 1885 and inspired by the landscape design principles of Frederick Law Olmsted and architect Calvert Vaux, who had overseen the design of Central Park in New York City. These inspections included assessing Luna Island’s pedestrian bridge, which spans the Niagara River a mere 80 feet from the roaring precipice of Bridal Veil Falls.

This white-knuckle account in the March 2020 of Civil Engineering magazine describes what had to be done: “… the team inspected the underside of the bridge at night – using specialized rigging – to avoid conflict with ongoing construction at Luna Island and the patrons occupying the Hurricane Deck 167 feet below… Supported by a system of cables and aluminum platforms suspended just two feet above the flowing river, the engineers performed their hands-on inspection of the existing stone-clad, cast-in-place concrete arch bridge.”

And how much fast-flowing, thundering water that is. On average, 3,160 tons of water flows over Niagara Falls every second. This accounts for 75,750 gallons of water per second over the American and Bridal Veil Falls, and 681,750 gallons per second over the Horseshoe Falls.


Above, engineers suspended above the brink of Bridal Veil Falls as they inspect the pedestrian bridge between Goat and Luna islands. (Photo credit – NYS Parks)

A few feet away from the workers was the brink of Bridal Veil Falls. And this is what it looks like over the edge to the base of the falls and the Cave of the Winds viewing decks…


Similar engineering and contracting work was required to bring new utilities – such as water and sewer, electrical service, fiber optics and telecommunications – from the mainland to Goat Island suspended underneath a 700-foot vehicle bridge over the river. Goat island separates Bridal Veil Falls from the American Falls.

This work “required safety harness tie-offs and specialized scaffolding – all of which required prior approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard and the New York State Department of Transportation.”

At other times, engineers, landscape architects and work crews had to deal with ice caused by the freezing of the constant mist over the falls, and the damage that freezing and thawing would do to rocky surfaces where walls and railings would have to be anchored.

There were some unanticipated man-man obstacles found in what was a heavily developed industrial area prior to becoming a park and generations of infrastructure had to be vetted. Ground-penetrating radar and seismic monitoring equipment were used to map the underground structures to determine whether to excavate or build around them.

And even the ground itself could be unpredictable. As described in the Civil Engineering magazine: “The park presented varying subsurface and poor soil conditions, for example, hidden pockets of soil with a consistency akin to quicksand that created design challenges and potentially hazardous conditions for the contractors.”

In an aerial shot of American Falls, the new Luna Island viewing area can be see at the right edge, with Bridal Veil Falls immediately to its right, , while the decks at the Cave of the Winds is at the bottom right. (Photo credits – NYS Parks)
The new Luna Island viewing area at Bridal Veil Falls, which is ADA accessible. (Photo credit – NYS Parks)

Niagara Falls was rebuilt as one of State Parks flagships under the NY Parks 2020 initiative. In addition to the $65 million spent on these projects, over $55 million more as been spent expanding green space north and south of the park as well as creating a new welcome plaza. So, for those who have not been to Niagara Falls for a while, now is the time to see the new and improved State Park, where engineers and other workers prevailed in a harsh and challenging environment to help bring the park into the 21st century.

The project was funded through Governor Cuomo’s Parks 2020 initiative and the New York Power Authority, via the Niagara River Greenway Fund.

The team that helped make this work and national engineering honor happen included:

T.Y. Lin International managed a team of consultants that included the LA Group,Saratoga Springs, which provided landscape architecture services; McMahon & Mann Consulting Structural Engineers, Buffalo; Foit-Albert Associates, Buffalo/Albany/New York, which provided architecture, engineering and surveying support; PGAV Destinations and Design Island, St. Louis/Pittsburgh, which created the new Cave of the Winds Experience.

The award winner and two runners-up be be chosen Oct. 8, 2021 during the ASCE Convention in Chicago, IL.  

Use this slideshow below to tour the revitalized Niagara Falls State Park…

And the map below shows the layout of the falls, the islands and the various infrastructure projects in the park’s revitalization..

Use the slider bar on this map to locate Goat and Luna islands, and some of the projects involved in the revitalization of Niagara Falls State Park.

Post by Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, NYS Parks


Learn more about how Frederick Law Olmstead advocated for the creation of Niagara Falls as the nation’s first state park in this 2011 book published by The Urban Design Project, School of Architecture and Planning, University at Buffalo.

Innovative Trail Brings Nature to The Autism Community

In the summer of 2014, a casual conversation with one of my neighbors revealed that two boys we knew with autism – one from Albany, one from New York City –  each experienced an uncanny sense of calm and serenity during separate visits to Letchworth State Park in western New York.

Also, both families also had initially hesitated in bringing their special needs children to a state park for fear of their behavior not being understood or accepted. As we pondered this sense of exclusion, my neighbor Susan Herrnstein and I also wondered together if Letchworth might be the right place for a unique project to provide a safe and welcoming experience in nature for visitors with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities.

This winter, some six and one-half years later, construction began on The Autism Nature Trail (The ANT) at Letchworth State Park, the first nature trail of its kind to be designed specifically for the sensory needs of people with autism, a diverse range of neurodevelopmental conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. In February, Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid attended the groundbreaking ceremony and opening of the trail is set for later this summer.

Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid (center) joins with ANT supporters during the February groundbreaking of the trail at Letchworth State Park. (Photo Credit – NYS Parks)
Construction work continues on The ANT in anticipation of an opening this summer. (Photo Credit – NYS Parks)

As a representative for Genesee County on the Genesee Region Parks Commission, I knew from the start that an undertaking of this magnitude could strain the Parks budget, so an early commitment was made that all funds to design, build, equip, staff, program and maintain this unique trail would come from private fundraising efforts.

Herrnstein recruited her friend Gail Serventi, a retired speech/language pathologist, to join our early team, and each of us took primary responsibility for an aspect of the project, which led to some involved in the project to eventually dub us the “ANT Aunts.”

Herrnstein led a Planning Committee and found an architect, a natural playscape creator and an organization in Rochester – Camp Puzzle Peace – which specializes in an Adirondack summer camping experience for entire families living with developmental disabilities.

Serventi convened an impressive Advisory Panel of all-volunteer academics and practitioners in speech, occupational and physical therapy, autism, special education and related services. Individuals with autism and parents and grandparents of children with developmental disabilities were included in the conversation.

I organized a Fundraising Team and began soliciting donations even before a full schematic design had even been approved by New York State Parks. So far, The ANT volunteers have raised $3 million in private funds toward the ultimate goal of $3.7 million to insure programming for the trail into the future.

The fundraising campaign was managed by the Natural Heritage Trust on behalf of State Parks. The trust is a not-for-profit corporation that receives and administers gifts, grants and contributions to further public programs for parks, recreation, cultural, land and water conservation and historic preservation purposes.

Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid with the ANT “aunts” at the February groundbreaking for the trail. From left to right, Susan Herrnstein, Loren Penman, Gail Serventi, Commissioner Kulleseid. (Photo credit – NYS Parks)

Early along the way, our quest to create The ANT also led to a connection with the amazing Dr. Temple Grandin, a woman diagnosed with autism in 1950 at age two and now a cattle industry expert who is quite possibly the world’s most well-known advocate for the autistic community.

Now a professor at Colorado State University, she was intrigued by the idea of a nature trail designed for visitors with autism. After her diagnosis, Grandin received early intervention thanks to a determined mother and went on to earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. At age 39, she helped raise national attention to the issue of autism with her debut 1986 book Emergence, which described how it felt to be autistic in a neurotypical world.

Grandin went on to write a 1993 work on her professional specialty of livestock handling, and authored further books on living with autism, including Thinking in Pictures in 1995 and The Way I See It in 2008. Her life was the feature of a 2010 HBO biographical film that starred Claire Danes. That same year, Time Magazine named Grandin as one of their 100 “heroes” around the world. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls in Seneca County, New York, in 2017.

Autism advocate Temple Grandin (center), meets with Loren Penman (left) and Gail Serventi (right).

Grandin offered our ANT team very specific recommendations early on for our trail: (1) Find a place in deep nature. “Don’t build a strip mall nature trail,” she said. (2) Seek out program staff who are both autism experts and experienced in the outdoors, not one or the other. (3) Offer challenges to visitors who may never have been on a trail – but also build in predictability and choice. (4) Design a pre-walk station to orient the visitor. Make the trail a loop so that the end is visible at the beginning. (5) Position opportunities for soothing movement with seating such as cuddle swings, and provide small, private spaces for recovery from “meltdowns.”

Armed with her guidance, our team created a design for a one-mile looped trail with eight clearly marked stations, each meant for a different sensory experience. Activities along the trail support and encourage sensory perception and integration, while also providing enjoyable activities for visitors of all abilities and ages. The stations engage each individual’s auditory, visual, olfactory, tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive processing, using nature and natural materials as the tools for skill-building.

After meeting with team members during an event in Canandaigua to share our design, Grandin endorsed our plan, saying, “I’m glad that my suggestions for the Autism Nature Trail have been integrated into the final design and overall plan. The Trailhead Pavilion as a pre-walk station is important since many autistic children need to know what they’re getting into before they will engage. Cuddle swings and gliders are good choices for movement. I understand the cost involved in providing trained staff for the trail, but its success depends on people who are passionate about nature who will get the children engaged.”

Click on the slideshow above for renderings of the sensory stations ont the ANT, starting with 1) Design Zone, where visitors are able to manipulate materials from along the trail into patterns and structures, 2) Meadow Run and Climb, a place with paths to run, jump and balance along serpentine berms, 3) Playful Path, a place of twisting paths with different surfaces including pea gravel, mowed grass, and pine needles, 4) Reflection Point, a quiet point halfway on the trail under a canopy of trees, and 5) Sensory Station, where a collection of leave, moss, fossils, animal fur, acorns and other objects are to be touched, handled and even smelled.

Statistics show that young people with autism spend disproportionate amounts of time indoors, often finding comfort in digital activities which results in social isolation. This disconnectedness not only affects individuals with ASD but also can affect caregivers and entire families. The ANT is designed as a series of accessible and safe outdoor spaces in nature, yet far from the distractions and often overwhelming stimuli of everyday outside life.

The ANT also is ADA-compliant and situated adjacent to the park’s Humphrey Nature Center with full access to a large parking area, modern restrooms and WiFi. The COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us that being in nature is a saving grace, and New York State Parks have remained open throughout the crisis. We also know that people can feel uncomfortable, unwelcome and even unsafe in environments where certain behaviors are not understood, and special needs cannot be met.

Our trail also has been endorsed by Hollywood actor Joe Mantegna, an honorary member of our ANT board and a father to a daughter with autism.

“We sometimes forget that children with autism become adults with autism — and they are adults a lot longer than they are children,” Mantegna said. “The Autism Nature Trail will provide a welcoming environment for visitors of all ages to experience the excitement, joy and comfort found in the wonders of our natural world. This unique form of direct and accepting engagement with nature in a world-class park adds a new dimension of exposure, with the potential of providing a lifetime of meaningful and fulfilling experiences.”

April is Autism Awareness Month, and a special GoFundMe charity campaign has been established with a goal of seeking individual donations of $25 to support ANT programming, which is also going to be supplemented by support from the Perry Central School District.

A link to the GoFundMe campaign can be found here.

Since the start, our project has received donations ranging from $5 to $500,000 from people coast to coast. Such generous donors include the Autism Team at the Bay Trail Middle School in Penfield, Monore County, which for five years has held an annual T-shirt design benefit contest, raising more than $900. Some other outside fundraisers have included regional photographer John Kucko and Cellino Plumbing of Buffalo.

Our team thanks everyone (and there are so many) who has supported our project to help make The ANT a reality, and we are grateful for any and all future support. You can find more information here about our trail at autismnaturetrail.com

This summer, perhaps we will meet some of you on The ANT!


Cover shot – The Trailhead Pavilion at The Ant, where orientation materials will be available to help visitors better experience what the trail has to offer.


Post by Loren Penman, ANT co-founder and board member, Genesee County representative to the Genesee County Region Parks Commission; with contributions from Brian Nearing, NYS Parks Deputy Public Information Officer

Resources


Here, Elijah Kruger, an environmental educator at Letchworth State Park, describes an autistic child’s encounter with nature, and how offering the opportunity for each person to explore nature at their own pace can promote a soothing experience.



Learn more about the life of autism advocate Temple Grandin here, here and here.

Listen to what she has to say about living with autism…