By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director
Across the country, debate is raging on a wide number of increasingly political issues: health care reform, immigration, foreign policy, nuclear deterrence, the role of social media in politics, energy policy, public lands, climate change, and endlessly on and on. The stakes in these arguments only rise by the minute and by the tweet.
While these issues heat up, California is on fire, Houston (remember Houston?) still recovering from a flood, Florida coming back online after its hurricane, and Puerto Rico, well, Puerto Rico is a hellish nightmare of too many people having too little access to basics like water and electricity. Puerto Rico looks to be a public health powder keg set to explode.
One thing is clear: we need nature. Now more than ever.
All of us need nature. In these overstressed times, nature heals. Literally. Every day, new studies show that time spent in a forest walking, or even just even sitting, elevates our mood, calms our heart rate and breathing, and relaxes us. Simply seeing green is restorative, but even better, trees release chemicals into the air that our brain is hardwired to respond to: a
Japanese researcher sprayed pine aerosols into a hospital nursery, and the blood pressure of newborn infants lowered immediately. They’ve never even been in a forest before, and their bodies responded to pine scent.
What is equally clear is that not all people have access to greenspaces like the Schuylkill Center. Studies also show that parks are a public–health benefit to the neighborhoods near them—an entire neighborhood is healthier when a park is close by. No park nearby, and the community suffers.
But tragically, not all people feel that places like the Schuylkill Center are for them, so the cross section of people who visit the Schuylkill Center sadly does not resemble the city of Philadelphia. While our city is only 45% white, our nature center’s visitorship is largely white; while the city is 44% Black, 14% Hispanic and Latino, and 7% Asian, our visitors do not yet reflect these numbers.
Knowing this, the Schuylkill Center has teamed up with some 20 nature centers across the region, from Delaware to New Jersey to the Philadelphia suburbs to the Allentown region, for a #NatureWelcomes campaign. Launched this week on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the centers are presenting photographs of people of all shapes, ages, sexes, colors, and ethnicities, enjoying nature together. And the theme for the campaign—“This Land is Your Land”—is translated into many languages: Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, and Mandarin Chinese.
“Nature speaks every language,” says one of the posts from Tuesday. “No matter where you come from, all our neighbors are welcome at the Schuylkill Center.”
#NatureIsLove is one of the hashtags, because “nature welcomes everyone from all walks of life. Regardless of language, color, status, lifestyle, your family is welcome at the Schuylkill Center!”
The Schuylkill Center feels this campaign is especially timely as race has emerged as one of the most contentious issues of the day, with white supremacists unabashedly marching in Charlottesville this summer and desperate Puerto Ricans are wondering if they are being treated differently than whiter Texans or Floridians.
So the Schuylkill Center would like our Roxborough neighbors to know we welcome you all: men and women, young and old, rich and poor, white and nonwhite, gay, straight and transgender—differences our trees simply do not see. Our doors are wide open, our forest is free, and nature welcomes everyone. We’re celebrating the rich tapestry of diversity that comprises Philadelphia, and our doors are open to you all.
If you walk our woods for only a few minutes several times a week, you will be calmed in these terribly tense times, restored and recharged to more fully engage in the issues of the day, and you might just even live longer.
It’s a pretty simple equation: nature = health. Come for a walk soon. Because #NatureWelcomes you, and so do we.
Check out our upcoming fall events here.
Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow the Schuylkill Center’s campaign on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.