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Nature as Medicine

Believe it or not, as a kid I really did not like being outside, to which you may say: “But Lily, you grew up in Vermont of all places, how could you not like exploring the outdoors?” And yet there I was, a 7-year old making up reasons to have to stay indoors during farm camp- an opportunity which I would now happily take. In retrospect this probably had something to do with a combination of my hatred of being sunburnt and my seasonal allergies. Unfortunately, I missed parts of a quintessential Vermont childhood- something I am still a little salty about.

Flash forward about 12 years and I was hopelessly lost in the middle of the woods. Pines about 40 ft tall towered over me as I tried to figure out exactly where I left the trail I was supposed to be monitoring. I like monitoring because it allows me, an introvert, to get solid alone time during the workday (which makes me more productive when I am in the office), though that is an aside. On this particular day my GPS device had gone on the fritz so I was monitoring using my iPhone. Because I did not have access to the track which I was supposed to be following, I was winging it a little. By a little I mean I had somehow taken the Little Elk trail until it became not a trail and more of a suggestion of where an actual elk may have walked- what turns out to have been some 2 miles away from the trail I should have been on.

I never really doubted my ability to get home- what I was scared of was encountering either another person or an animal of some variety. I know bears and elk like to frequent where I was- two creatures I wasn’t gunning to see, especially alone. I trudged east, armed with my phone compass and a paper map of the area, crossing my fingers that I would run into something familiar, and, thankfully, eventually I did just that. I think I audibly whooped when I saw the Elder Fehnn trail, my original goal, clearly gouged into the earth in front of me.

This summer fellowship has really been my first foray into ‘nature’. Before very recently, despite the location of my upbringing, you’d be more likely to find me running on the treadmill in an air-conditioned room than taking a hike to get my heart rate up. Part of this was convenience- the treadmill was located an approximately 3 minute walk from my dorm while nature- though abundant in Colorado- was harder to access. The other part was that I just didn’t understand that being in nature is not simply a means to an end, the exercise is almost secondary to the peace of mind, body, and soul achieved by periods of solitude and exploration.

I recently read an article that says that nature is medicine- a idea I could not agree with more. This, along with my personal experiences discovering nature, have reinforced the fact that public open spaces are beneficial as more than pretty viewsheds. I’m not alone in thinking this, there is even hard data to back it up: CSU recently came out with a study that said that for every $1 invested in public lands, parks, open spaces, and trails, up to $12 in revenue will be reaped. This is encouraging. Money speaks. Hopefully this will spur a greater movement in the already conservation-minded folks of Colorado to continue to protect the land.

As Coloradans become more likely to conserve - if not for personal then for economic reasons - Palmer Land Trust can use its well-established seat at the table to continue creating meaningful, perpetual change. Twenty years from now someone similar to me- a nature convert- can realize the benefits and potential of the outdoor world.