This week marks the unofficial beginning of summer and prompts thoughts of walking in the woods, frolicking in lakes and enjoying the soul-enriching amenities that are prevalent across Washington.
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission has long worked to connect residents with our state’s outdoor offerings, and a recent expansion of the Check Out Washington program deserves a mention.
Check Out Washington is a collaboration between state agencies and the Washington State Library that allows individuals to visit a state park without paying the park fee. Participating libraries — including FVRLibraries — allow residents to borrow a Discover Pass for one week for entry into state parks and other state lands. Visitors can also view a backpack containing binoculars and guides to trees and birds in Washington.
Clark County has three state parks – Battle Ground Lake, Paradise Point and Reed Island. Together they encompass nearly 900 acres of land that connects to our state’s natural beauty. The parks in Cowlitz, Skamania and Lewis counties are also within easy reach for local residents.
Connecting with nature has proven benefits for our physical and mental health.
As Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” told the New York Times, “Ironically, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, tragic as it is, has left public awareness of the deep human need to connect with nature and brings a greater sense of urgency to the movement to connect children, families and communities with nature.”
And as Louise Chawla of the University of Colorado observed, “When you explore a wooded area in the park, there’s something for all ages. There are stones of different weights, stumps of different sizes, lighter and heavier sticks. Whatever a child’s current skill level, they can work towards their next level of challenge. They get to know their own abilities.”
In 2007, lawmakers established a state subsidy program called No Child Left Inside to provide programs that get children outdoors. Similar federal legislation has faded but was reinstated this year.
Adults also benefit from spending time outdoors. Research shows that outdoor recreation helps lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. It also improves focus and relaxation while providing a break from our screen-addicted lives.
But individual health isn’t the only reason to get outside. Understanding and appreciating nature creates a sense of responsibility for our planet. As The Olympian editorially writes, “Young people need a sense of place, a grounding in the natural world, and an understanding that they are becoming stewards of that world. You need to know that humans are one species among many on this spinning globe.”
Modern conveniences and a modernized economy have steadily reduced the amount of time Americans spend outdoors. In addition to negative health effects, this has reduced our knowledge of the outside world – a world we need to better protect and cultivate.
As the famous naturalist John Muir said: “To go into the forest is to go home; for I suppose we came from the woods originally.”
There are numerous programs that help us return to these origins. Using them can help improve our health and lead to an enriching summer.