Nature: A Public Health Imperative
By Rachel Maher, Park Pride’s Marketing & Communications Manager
As Atlanta’s population grows and the urban environment is developed, our access to nature and greenspace is at risk. What would we lose if we lost our connection to nature? What would that mean for our health and quality of life? And what role do urban parks play in maintaining that connection?
Nature as Medicine
Earlier this year at Park Pride’s Parks and Greenspace Conference, keynote speaker Dr. Nooshin Razani argued for a “daily dose of nature.” Her research showed that each time one of her patients went to a park, their cortisol (the hormone linked to stress) levels decreased an incremental amount below their previous visit. This suggests that repeated access to nature—or visiting a park every day, for example—has greater health benefits than a single visit alone.
Dr. Razani’s research also proposes that nature promotes resilience (the ability to bounce back from adversity) for both children and adults. “What nature does,” she stated during her keynote presentation, “through stress reduction, through physical activity, through promoting social ties, is push a person’s balance toward resilience, to being able to tolerate stress so that it doesn’t become toxic. We believe that is the reason why living in and around nature can improve lifespan.”
In short, the cumulative health benefits of visiting a park and being in nature can literally add years to your life.
Dr. Razani went on to share that greener neighborhoods have a lower mortality rate than neighborhoods with less green. “To me,” she stated, “that means that access to nature is absolutely a public health imperative.”
Access to Nature in the City
Parks are the crux of urban dwellers’ access to nature. All people deserve to have a quality park within walking distance of their home.
If proactive steps to protect greenspace and increase access to nature are not taken now, thousands of Atlanta-area residents are at risk of not being able to access parks and the associated health benefits that can last a lifetime.
So, what can you do to raise awareness of the importance of nature?
- Weigh in on the Urban Ecology Framework. Atlanta’s Department of City Planning is developing the Urban Ecology Framework (UEF), a plan to determine what aspects of nature (forests, greenspaces, rivers) in Atlanta should be preserved, restored, and accentuated. Review the presentations and recommendations from the project team and send them your comments for consideration in the final plan. Visit the Department of City Planning’s website for more information.
- Write to your elected officials. Tell them that you support policies that bring parks within walking distance of all residents.
- Share the health benefits of nature with friends and family by planning a fun park outing. Need inspiration for where to go? Below are some of Park Pride staff’s favorite places to get their daily dose of nature close to home:
Cascade Springs Nature Preserve (City of Atlanta). “If you’re looking for a truly special place to experience nature, Cascade Springs Nature Preserve is the perfect choice. Located in southwest Atlanta, this greenspace has something for everyone. You will find a charming stone springhouse, civil war earthworks, bicycle and hiking trails, a boardwalk and outdoor classroom, huge moss-covered boulders, a variety of wildlife, native plants and trees, and spectacular waterfalls cascading into a lovely stretch of Utoy Creek.” Allison Barnett, Associate Director.
- Herbert Greene Nature Preserve (City of Atlanta). “I personally think Herbert Greene Nature Preserve is the best kept secret in Atlanta’s park inventory. It is a 100-acre minimally developed forested greenspace in southwest Atlanta that is flanked by Utoy Creek, hosts an amazing intermittent wetland, has beautiful boulders strewn about the park, is full of wildlife, and NO ONE knows about it! I love exploring the “wild places” of Atlanta so I always head to this park with a sense of adventure and excitement to walk the trails or meander through the forest. I highly encourage folks who are looking for their “nature fix” to spend a day at Herbert Greene.” John Ahern, Volunteer Manager.
- Ashford Forest Preserve (City of Brookhaven). “Hidden beneath the activity of the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport is a serene 30-acre natural area in Brookhaven called Ashford Forest Preserve. As the largest undeveloped greenspace in the city, the park offers peaceful respite with walking trails through old growth forest, meadows, and wetlands. Visitors can enjoy the sounds of the creek on a trail-side bench while spying native flowers like trillium, Jack in the pulpit, or bloodroot. Evidence of the park’s history as a military post from World Wars I and II dots the landscape with wooden posts that functioned as runway approach lights and a concrete pad used as a mule watering station. Ashford Forest Preserve provides 2 miles of trails for runners, dog-walkers, and nature observers.” Kayla Altland, Friends of the Park Associate.
Constitution Lakes Park (DeKalb County). “Constitution Lakes Park features a lake and wetland in South DeKalb just off Moreland Avenue. There is a paved multi-use trail that ends at a wooden platform, and a new boardwalk that stretches over a breathtakingly beautiful wetland (one of the largest inside I-285). Of course, Constitution Lakes also features “Doll’s Head Trail,” an off-the-beaten-path trail of oddities, works of trash turned art and Sharpie penned witticisms.” Michael Halicki, Executive Director.
- Henderson Park (City of Tucker). “One of the hidden gems outside the perimeter is Henderson Park. With Lake Erin as its tranquil centerpiece, Henderson Park offers over four miles of wooded hiking trails. My dog, Sugar, and I love to freely explore the woods and let the trail carry us from one end of this 120-acre park to the other and back again. We often encounter enthusiastic birders, eagerly peering through a pair of binoculars, or families of hikers out for a stroll. This lovely park should be on every urban hiker’s “to do” list!” Andrew White, Director of Park Visioning.
For more resources about amazing urban greenspaces where you can find your daily dose of nature, check out the links below!
- Hiking Atlanta’s Hidden Forests by Jonah McDonald
- Find a moment of zen at these 5 Atlanta nature preserves via Atlanta Magazine
- 60 hikes within 60 miles of Atlanta by Randy Golden
- Atlanta’s best hiking trails – our top 10 favorite hikes via Atlanta Trails
Featured Image (Top): Dr. Nooshin Razani delivers her keynote address at the 2019 Parks & Greenspace Conference.