By Chris Morrill, Executive Director
COVID 19 has challenged us in untold ways. In California we have now sheltered in place for seven weeks trying to avoid the most catastrophic pandemic impacts.
The good news is that we are seeing a decrease in community spread in most places of the state. Governor Newsom has even sent signals that we may be re-opening in the coming weeks, however slowly.
This pandemic has been all consuming and has created economic and social impacts we are only beginning to feel. Being at home for this long undoubtedly saved thousands of lives. It also presents mental health challenges for those who already deal with them and many who have never been challenged by them before.
There seems to be two popular and healthy ways of coping and seeking support for our mental health.
The first is online counseling or therapy. There were a number of existing companies that provided virtual therapy before this crisis that have seen huge increases in usage. Other therapists have moved their practices online and have seen their demand increase. These are lifesaving services for many.
The second is that people are seeing the value and importance of safe outdoor spaces. This weekend, I saw crowded trails myself in the East Bay and pictures of crowded beaches in Southern California. People are dusting off old bikes and hiking shoes. They are getting to know parts of the parks around them they never knew existed.
The good thing about this virus and the non-life-threatening choices we are forced to make is that it helps us focus in on the most essential. I hope that this pandemic helps to further de-stigmatize mental health challenges and seeking help.
The other essential idea is that access to nature is not just a luxury. It is an essential element of happy and healthy communities. CalWild has always believed this.
That is why we launched the Public Lands Equity and Resilience Program in February. Access to the benefits of being outside, in CalWild’s case to federal public lands, shouldn’t be limited only to those next to those lands, those with the means to easily travel to them, or those who feel welcomed.
COVID 19 and our response to it shows us that there is something more fundamentally human about being in nature. It helps us fulfill our humanity in some deep way.
Public health experts and doctors have known this for years. We’ve even seen the rise of nature prescriptions urging people to get out. The fundamental benefits we glean from being in parks and outside are essential to us in this time of crisis and should continue after.
As we pull out of this pandemic, my hope is that the increased importance of natural areas remains with those in positions that can protect these places and provide for greater access, but also stick with all of us who have found solace, peace, and respite in the natural places around us.
The values that stem from that understanding will help us make better decisions about protecting the natural world in the years and hopefully decades to come. It will also push us to make those opportunities available to others who haven’t had them in the past.
Please let me know your thoughts, comments, and questions by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.