On the trails: Reaching out to nature for comfort

In the last decade, there has been a decline in outdoor engagement in younger generations, making nature an underrated and often underutilized resource with today’s families.

This is attributed to an increase of use in technology in everyday life, and more research has shown that, on an average day, people are inclined to stay indoors. Nature is so commonplace that we often take it for granted, assuming it will always be there and that outdoor activities can be postponed to another time.

Why is it, then, that in the midst of a pandemic that requires people to stay home and socially distance themselves from others, people are itching to go outdoors?

Nature has the ability to calm the mind and ease anxieties — even looking at a potted plant can help calm an anxiety attack. People across the country have been laid off, lost health insurance, are trapped at home with an abusive partner, have loved ones waiting to immigrate into the U.S., are facing the closure of their small business, are fighting for respirators and personal protective equipment — it’s a stressful time for us all.

To escape the stress and anxiety, people everywhere are enjoying the outdoor exercise exemption to the stay-at-home orders in place. I live close to the Wilder multi-use walkway on U.S. Route 5, a well-maintained paved path that I frequently enjoy with my dog, Keelee. We have ventured the walkway nearly every day for the last two years, and I have never seen it busier than it has been this past month. On another note, my colleagues at the Upper Valley Trails Alliance were astounded to see that the use of Trail Finder in March was up 62% from its use the previous March.

The need for nature is being recognized as we venture outdoors to seek comfort in our natural spaces. What better place to be than the Upper Valley, with a gorgeous landscape and easy access to trails? Our communities have many opportunities to explore the natural world and enjoy nature as it comes to life this spring. Nature is abundant here, and it continues to be a free resource to those who enjoy it.

If you wish to explore your local trails and venture outdoors, I recommend using Trail Finder: a free, comprehensive site with up-to-date maps and active trail alerts for Twin State trails. Trail Finder (www.trailfinder.info) stays updated on closures and COVID-19 updates in public spaces. If you have children at home and you’re looking for some outdoor educational opportunities, check out uvtrails.org/news to read our post on outdoor activities for kids. The post offers a list of outdoor resources for families, including a guide on outdoor schooling activities you can do in your own backyard.

This pandemic offers a unique opportunity for us to reflect on how we spend our time, as many of us are confined to our homes the majority of the day. We have been given the chance to focus on what’s important and, for many of us, we have reached out to nature for comfort. My hope is that when a semblance of normalcy returns to our lives, we remember to keep nature part of our routine and support the organizations that make it available to us.

Written by Kaitie Eddington and published in the Valley News on May 2nd, 2020