It’s no wonder that during times of acute stress, a walk outdoors can feel more important than ever.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Nature Guelph continues to connect people with the outside world, virtually.
“People are stuck at home and told not to go outside but people want to get out and that’s been tough,” says Judy Brisson, vice-president of Nature Guelph.
“With most trails and parks closed, the ones that are still open are busy with dog walkers and cyclists so it can be difficult trying to keep that social distancing from one another, but being outside is so important.”
The science says it all.
Studies have shown that spending time in nature can lower blood pressure and stress levels, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety and improve mood.
“Being out in nature is so good for you, for your mental, physical and emotional well being,” Brisson says.
While self isolating during the pandemic, people are taking the time to reflect. With a newly found appreciation, they see the simple joy and wonder at the park near their house or the local trail and even in their own backyard.
“For parents, for kids and for everyone, being out in nature is so important for their health,” Brisson said.
In partnership with 2Rivers Festival, Nature Guelph offers a variety of virtual events including workshops, speaker series, presentations, and scavenger hunts. It also shares creative ways families can bring nature into their own homes.
“A big shout out to 2Rivers Festival for helping make this happen. They stepped up and gave us support with getting this programming going and we’re so thankful to them,” Brisson said.
“When one door closes, another one opens. So far, the response has been good, and the technology is working.”
The virtual events have already drawn much interest.
Earlier this month, Sonya Richmond and Sean Morton shared Feathers and Beaks, their experiences hiking across Canada along the Great Trail. They also offered tips on how to learn about birds from your own backyard.
And Brisson herself, was happy to host Roots & Shoots by taking participants on a virtual walk along the Starkey Loop to view spring in all its glory along with the many wildflowers found along the way.
“This is something we do every year and I have so many photos from previous years. Since it is closed this year, I thought I would share all of them on-line,” Brisson said.
“Someone told me, afterwards, that they had fibromyalgia and that they could never do that walk. So, for her to see those photos, she was so thankful,” Brisson said.
“We also try to engage people with the Nature in the City program to encourage parents and children to be together in nature.”
Upcoming Nature in the City virtual events include Fins and Shells. Participants can learn about all about the crustaceans, insects, and fish that fight for survival in the Eramosa River. There will be a Q&A session after the presentation.
A family-friendly virtual scavenger hunt will also be held later in May
Families can work at their own pace to find listed items, then join the live online Zoom event on May 31 to report what they found and where.
All events are free, but preregistration is required.
“This is so great for kids right now because they are being home-schooled. We hope this might stimulate some interest in the natural world while they are at home learning,” Brisson said.
“Our events are free to everyone and you don’t have to be a member. But we do encourage people to become a member and to donate.”
Nature Guelph currently has about 150 members.
Founded in 1966, today it is an active club for nature lovers in Guelph. It holds monthly meetings with guest speakers, regular outdoor events and field trips within Guelph and beyond.
Along with the Wildflower Society, there is also a Young Naturalists program for kids 6-10 years and a Naturalists in Training program for kids 11-16 years.
Membership is open to nature lovers of all ages and backgrounds.
“Coming up also, our Nature Guelph Wildflower Society will be holding a plant sale for plant lovers. We will provide a list of plants on-line and then people can pick and choose the ones they would like and then have them delivered,” Brisson said.
All plant sale revenue will be donated to Hope House and the Children’s Foundation of Guelph for the Fresh Food for Kids program.
“We don’t know about the future, but the response has been good and we are already thinking about programming into the fall,” Brisson says.
“And Zoom has all of these capabilities where people can break up into smaller groups as well.”
In normal circumstances, Nature Guelph has over 100 people attend meetings.
“We are also realizing that being on-line, we can invite some very interesting speakers, without having to worry about travel. There’s so much we can do on-line. We are even thinking about continuing virtual programming, even after all of this,” Brisson says.
Nature Guelph also encourages the community to visit the “Nature Guelph Community Forum” Facebook page.
“People can post photos. This is especially great for kids. They can take photos of a particular snake or flower and if they don’t know what it is, someone out there will know,” Brisson said.
Spending time outdoors offers a refuge of normality during these extraordinary times.
For Nature Guelph, it’s all about staying connected through nature.
“I think everybody is so stressed out right now. For me, walking through the woods and hearing the birds and seeing the flowers, I feel that relaxation and the peace around me,” Brisson says.
“Seeing the robins, the bees and the butterflies on the flowers, it’s so calming, and I instantly feel better.”
For more information, visit natureguelph.ca or the Nature Guelph or 2Rivers Festival Facebook pages.