FirstLight expanding access to rec areas

A light rain falls as the sun sets over Barton Cove in Gill.

A light rain falls as the sun sets over Barton Cove in Gill. RECORDER FILE PHOTO


Staff Writer

Published: 06-03-2024 11:43 AM

Andy Brydges attended the Massachusetts Environmental Education Society’s annual conference at The College of the Holy Cross and saw a presentation that spoke to him.

Autism Alliance, a program of the larger organization Advocates, spoke to attendees about the potential of sensory-responsive businesses to better serve individuals with autism and their families and caregivers, and Brydges, the director of community relations for FirstLight “thought it would be a good thing for us to do.”

As a result, the company at the end of April launched a series of spring and summer recreation activities and enhancements at the company’s Franklin County facilities.

FirstLight is reopening its local attractions, including the Turners Falls Fishway and the Connecticut River Cruise, for the 2024 spring and summer season and will expand access to the facilities for area residents and visitors. Anyone attending sensory-friendly hours at the Turners Falls Fishway can download a social story from FirstLight’s website to prepare for the trip, and they can expect a quieter environment at the facility. Social stories are tools that adults can use to help children learn to adjust their behavior and emotions to the situation they’re in.

Sensory bags also will be available to support a more welcoming and accessible experience. Details on sensory-friendly hours and resources for the Connecticut River Cruise will be announced closer to the start of the season.

“I thought it was a good idea. It would promote more use of our facilities, most of which are already sensory-friendly and welcoming to that community,” Brydges said. “We’re really excited about it. We would encourage other businesses to look into it.”

He explained FirstLight received free virtual training from Advocates.

“The partnership between the Autism Alliance and local businesses increases quality of life for family caregivers and their loved ones with autism, and creates a welcoming, inclusive community for all,” Jeffrey Keilson, senior vice president of strategic planning at Advocates, said in a statement. “Autism welcoming businesses make simple but impactful accommodations to their locations in order to better serve guests with autism and sensory sensitivities.”

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Brydges said most of the offerings were already sensory-friendly and open to the public, but some activities are more structured now.

For more information on FirstLight’s recreation areas and upcoming programs, visit

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-930-4120.