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Press: The Outdoors are for Everyone

By Kristen Sharpless, SLT Executive Director. This piece appeared as a Guest Perspective in the Stowe Reporter on November 27, 2019.

“Being outside is a sanctuary that has saved my life many a day.”

Can you relate? I can.

I heard this bold statement made by T. Morgan Dixon, Founder and CEO of GirlTrek, a national health and social justice movement organized by volunteers across America to inspire one million black women to get walking by 2020 as a way to heal their bodies and communities.

And I heard it echoed again by Dr. Aron Steward in her keynote remarks at Stowe Land Trust’s Annual Meeting and Celebration in September. Dr. Steward spoke about how, as the Clinical Director at Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center, she had witnessed even the smallest access to the outdoors and nature - filling up a bird feeder and watching birds from a barred bedroom window - provide some of Vermont’s most traumatized and harmed youth with a flicker of hope and motivation to live.

During a celebration of the land trust’s achievements following her remarks, many Stowe community members in attendance expressed how the outdoors and land also holds the power to sustain and revive their own minds, bodies, and spirits. Think about that. Access to the outdoors can provide us all - regardless of personality, position, or circumstance - with a sense of belonging and well being. And, yes, sometimes a reason to live.

It is not a coincidence that we feel revived after connecting with the outdoors. Numerous health studies show that time in natural environments can reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue while improving short-term memory, focus and creativity. This is why some doctors are embracing writing prescriptions for their patients to engage in active time outside as a way to help address a range of health issues from obesity to anxiety and high blood pressure to depression.

How we enjoy spending our sustaining time outside is embedded in our culture, family traditions, and opportunities. It is also deeply personal and varied. How wonderful that, in the Stowe area, there is room for everyone and nearly every activity in our outdoor spaces. Over Columbus/Indigenous Peoples’ Day weekend alone, thousands of people took to the trails and outdoors to enjoy the Leaf Blower Mountain Bike Festival, to climb the Pinnacle, to stroll or roll down the Rec Path, to bike the backroads, to sit in a deer stand with a bow, to rake leaves or put the garden to bed, and more.

The capacity of our conserved and public lands, trails, waterways, and other outdoor spaces to hold us all is truly amazing. That capacity does not exist by accident. It is the result of careful planning, visionary investment in the protection of important places, and dedicated care of land and trails. It is also dependent on our community’s continued willingness to accept and embrace a multitude of different perspectives, preferences, and activities on the land.

However, while more people than ever are enjoying our outdoor spaces, we know that too many people are still not spending nearly enough time outside. Barriers to the outdoors - especially for young people - can include the pull of indoor technologies, little real or perceived leisure time, safety concerns, high costs, aversion to dirt and discomfort, lack of transportation, and a shortage of mentors.  These factors can be as much an issue in rural areas like Lamoille County as they are in urban areas.

I hope that your time outside buoys you. That it brings you a sense of well-being, calm, friendship, and adventure. And I hope that we can all be bold and curious in our outdoor pursuits. That we will invite and help new people to join us in experiencing the outdoor activities we most love. And that, in turn, we will ask others to show us what it is that they love best about the outdoors, even - or perhaps especially - if it seems foreign and uncomfortable at first.

Who knows? Doing so could save a life. Perhaps even our own.