UW Combined Fund Drive

April 5, 2021

Getting your Vitamin N (for Nature) Responsibly

It has, indeed, been a year. The pandemic, job losses, natural disasters, a tumultuous election and transition of power, and racial and economic injustice have challenged all of us.

Thankfully, spring is here, and with nicer weather on the horizon and vaccines being administered it seems nearly everyone – from seasoned outdoor enthusiasts to habitual couch potatoes – is anxious to get outside to engage in recreational activities. Hiking, cycling, running, boating, horseback riding, fishing, open water swimming, you name it – when it comes to outdoor recreation in the Pacific Northwest, we have a true embarrassment of riches.

Nature is Good for You 

Scientific research supports the conclusion many of us have already reached: nature is good for you. Among the many benefits of a strong nature connection: improved mental acuity and creativity; better health through physical activity that reduces the risk of obesity, heart disease, depression, and other lifestyle diseases; and an understanding of the urgent need for environmental protection and preservation of our planet.

Recreating in nature just feels good – and it is a lot of fun, too.

Nature’s health benefits are especially relevant now, more than a year into a pandemic that has kept many indoors when they would rather be out. And for communities most impacted by systemic inequality, addressing the imbalance in equitable access to greenspace is critical to public health.

And Kids Too!

All of this is just as true for kids, as well – outdoor time provides powerful boosts to their mental, physical, and emotional development. Getting outside and into the dirt helps combat “nature-deficit disorder”, a term coined by nature advocate Richard Louv to describe the human cost of alienation from nature.

Research suggests that kids who actively engage in outdoor play:

  • Are more likely to have an active adulthood;
  • Show more creative play and better concentration in school;
  • Engage in more inter-gender play during school recess;
  • Have reduced symptoms of ADHD; and
  • Are more likely to develop life-long conservation values.

Additionally, according to the hygiene hypothesis, early exposure to plants, animals, and soil helps children’s immune systems to develop properly, making them less vulnerable to food allergies and conditions like asthma.

Recent research out of North Carolina State University has found that, particularly for teens, nature-based activities during the pandemic have been linked to improved well-being by offsetting some of the negative mental health impacts of major stressors like Covid-19 and remote schooling.

Check out the Top Ten Hikes in Washington State from The Whole U!

So, nature is good for our health, good for our wellbeing and fun. But how to go outside safely in the middle of a pandemic?

Recreate Responsibly

Vaccines notwithstanding, however, we are still dealing with a global pandemic. Although there is light at the end of the tunnel, responsible recreation is essential in the interest of public health and to ensure that our parks, trails, beaches, and forests stay open.

The following guidelines, provided by the Recreate Responsibly Coalition, will help us protect ourselves, others, and places we love when we adventure outside:

  • Know Before you Go – Check the status of the place you want to visit. If it is closed, do not go. If it is crowded, have a backup plan.
  • Plan Ahead – Prepare for facilities to be closed, pack lunch, and bring essentials like hand sanitizer and a face covering.
  • Explore Locally – Limit long-distance travel and make use of local parks, trails, and public spaces. Be mindful of your impact on the communities you visit.
  • Practice Physical Distancing – Keep your group size small. Be prepared to cover your nose and mouth and give others space. If you are sick, stay home.
  • Play It Safe – Slow down and choose lower-risk activities to reduce your risk of injury. Search and rescue operations and health care resources are both strained.
  • Leave No Trace – Respect public lands and waters, as well as Native and local communities. Take all your garbage with you.
  • Build an Inclusive Outdoors – Be an active part of making the outdoors safe and welcoming for all identities and abilities.

Get Social

You are encouraged to share your commitment to responsible outdoor adventures using the hashtag #RecreateResponsibly in your social media posts and follow the movement on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Support

The constraints of pandemic life have reminded many of us how important nature is to our health, wellbeing, and happiness, particularly for people impacted by systems of inequality. Rather than taking our green spaces for granted, we can invest in organizations that protect and preserve them, as well as striving to make those spaces accessible to all.

You can make a difference by donating to these organizations via the UW Combined Fund Drive or by spreading the word to your friends and family:

EarthShare Washington (charity code 0316709): EarthShare Washington is comprised of over 60 organizations that work to protect the environment locally, nationally, and internationally. Many of these organizations are based in Washington State. We support groups that work on: Wildlife Protection, Water Issues, Human Health/Children’s Health, Forests, Parks and Land Conservation, Environmental Education, Climate Change and Energy, including:

  • Audubon Washington (charity code 314996):  inspires diverse audiences to conserve natural ecosystems and build healthy communities for people and birds.
  • Center for Environmental Law & Policy (charity code 1478540): CELP is a statewide organization whose mission is to protect, preserve and restore Washington’s waters.
  • Climate Solutions (charity code 314955): Climate Solutions’ mission is to accelerate clean energy solutions to the climate crisis.
  • Earth Ministry (charity code 1478248): To inspire and mobilize the Christian community to play a leadership role in building a just and sustainable future.
  • Forterra (charity code 0456443): Our mission is to act with immediacy to protect, enhance, and steward our region’s most precious resources – its communities and landscapes.
  • FutureWise (charity code 314937): Futurewise protects Washington’s working farmlands, forests and shorelines and builds strong healthy communities for present and future.
  • IslandWood (charity code 0315689): IslandWood’s mission is to provide exceptional learning experiences that inspire lifelong environmental and community stewardship.
  • Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust (charity code 314955): The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust leads and inspires action to conserve and enhance the landscape from Seattle across the Cascade Mountains.
  • Puget Soundkeeper (charity code 315023): To protect and preserve the waters of Puget Sound.
  • Tilth Alliance (charity code 335424): Our mission is to build an ecologically sound, economically viable and socially equitable food system.
  • Washington Trails Association (charity code315053 ): Washington Trails Association’s mission is to preserve, enhance, and promote hiking opportunities in Washington state through collaboration.
  • Washington Water Trust (charity code 523588): Since 1998, Washington Water Trust (WWT) has been restoring healthy and sustainable flows in our state’s rivers and streams for fish, farms, people and wildlife.
  • Washington Wild (charity code 315056): Washington Wild protects and restores wild lands and waters in Washington State through advocacy, education, and civic engagement.
  • Zero Waste Washington (charity code 315047): Zero Waste Washington drives policy change for a healthy and waste-free world. We envision a just, equitable, and sustainable future where we all produce, consume, and reuse responsibly.