We all need to relieve stress. Our lives are full of it — from life-changing events in our jobs and relationships down to small frustrations like a broken faucet.
July 2010 Issue
Good Natured: Making Room For Nature in Our Busy Lives
Find real-world stress relief by volunteering in the outdoors.
Not surprisingly, movies like the blockbuster “Avatar” and computer games that immerse players in virtual worlds are on the rise. Their popularity corresponds with an increase in complexity in our lives. They offer an escape from reality.
There is another escape that is far more powerful than these diversions and is still rooted in the real world. It is both captivating and liberating. It can be found in a backyard garden or along a mountain range. It is the great outdoors.
Before you shell out $12 for a movie ticket to take your mind off things, consider losing yourself for a few hours in the natural world. One very easy way to do this is to volunteer for an organization dedicated to improving and protecting the environment.
While sunbathing and picnics are popular summer pastimes, many Ohioans devote a portion of their summer free time to keeping the Buckeye State beautiful. From counting butterflies to teaching boat safety to maintaining trails, volunteers put in thousands of hours each year for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, local park districts and groups like The Nature Conservancy. Our world is a better place, thanks to their efforts.
Many of you might think of clean-ups when you think of volunteering for the environment. And yes, picking up trash at parks and dragging old tires off the bottom of rivers is a time-honored and worthwhile way to improve your corner of the world.
Watershed groups host annual “stream sweeps” to make streams safer and more attractive for people. Partners for Clean Streams, for example, has pulled 67 tons of trash from the lower Maumee Watershed over the last 13 years.
But volunteer activities range from citizen science to manual labor. They also provide an opportunity to connect with others who share your values and beliefs.
Recently, my son and I joined volunteers at The Nature Conservancy’s Strait Creek Preserve near the small town of Sinking Spring in southern Ohio. Our task was to cut down and pile cedar trees to restore a native prairie of bluestem, Indian, and other grasses.
We hiked under clear blue skies accompanied by the soothing sounds of water rushing along the creek. Before arriving at the cedar stand, we passed remnants of ancient coral reefs. As we worked, the smell of the freshly cut cedar brought back childhood memories of a chest that had stored sweaters. My son literally tried to “bottle” the scent by placing a container just below where I was cutting with my handsaw to catch the sawdust.
We ate lunch on the edge of a prairie that had already been cleared and burned as the Native Americans had done. We talked about the large mammals that once roamed Ohio as an integral part of the ecosystem but are no more. I learned that the last native buffalo was killed in 1803, the year Ohio became a state. Driving home, my son and I recounted our favorite parts of the day’s adventure.
Where can you go to volunteer?
• For more than 25 years, volunteers from the Ohio Scenic Rivers Program have been compiling biological records and water quality information on Ohio’s rivers, through the program’s Stream Quality Monitoring Project. Many local, youth and conservation organizations, individuals and families are committed to monitoring more than 150 stations along Ohio’s scenic rivers. The information about the quantity and quality of aquatic insects, for example, can trigger a warning when pollution is threatening the life in a stream.
• The Friends of Findley State Park, in Lorain County, recently developed a disc golf course at the park, and are working this summer on a new shelter house.
• ODNR’s Division of Watercraft uses volunteers to help promote the importance of safety and wearing personal floatation devices while boating.
• Metropolitan Park districts throughout Ohio need volunteers for a variety of purposes. In central Ohio, for example, the Franklin County Metro Parks rely on 700 volunteers to monitor bluebird boxes, assist naturalists in leading hikes, help maintain trails, and a variety of other tasks.
• I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Nature Conservancy, where we have 400 active volunteers working on 35 to 40 outdoor projects every year, in all parts of the state. Our volunteers collect wildflower seeds, photograph and count butterflies, and cut the fire lines to prepare for controlled burns.
In “The Summer Day,” poet Mary Oliver asks: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Get outside! Get muddy. Get dirt under your fingernails. Feel the sun on your face and the cool breeze on your neck. Enjoy the sense of release that nature offers free of charge.
Josh Knights is Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Ohio program. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about The Nature Conservancy’s work at www.nature.org/ohio.
For More Information:
To learn about volunteer opportunities with The Nature Conservancy, please visit www.nature.org/ohio/volunteer.
Friends of Findley State Park: Contact: Bill Martin (440-487-2095, email@example.com). Web site: www.friendsoffindley.org.
Franklin County Metro Parks
For more information about the Ohio Department of Natural Resources” SQM Project and a list of upcoming workshops, please visit http://ohiodnr.com/watercraft/sqm/tabid/2550/default.aspx.