Getting close to nature: Westerly Land Trust launches program to promote the benefits of the outdoors | Daily News Alert

Westwinds – Just days before Earth Day, Lauren Barber, conservation program manager at the Westwinds Land Trust, was crossing the Riverwood Reserve – a 148-acre woodland, rocky Ridges and freshwater wetlands.

Barber, 31, a lifelong outdoor enthusiast, met her husband, Westwind native Willie Barber, who was teaching marine science on Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California. , she came to Riverwood to talk about a new project from the Land Trust, one that has grown fairly organically throughout the pandemic.

Dubbed “Health in the Forest,” the program “aims to connect mind, body, spirit, and the outdoors,” Barber noted, noting that numerous scientific studies tout the health benefits of spending time outdoors.

As the Land Trust understands nature’s myriad benefits for physical and mental health, it made a lot of sense to develop a new wellness programme, she said.

“I believe we all crave nature,” said Barber, who has worked at the New Jersey Conservation Wildlife Foundation, the Cape May Whale Watch and Research Center, the Catalina Island Institute of Oceanography and the New England Science and Sailing Company. “And everyone can benefit from time outside.”

She went on to say that while the pandemic has its obvious downsides, it has also revived interest in nature and created a 35-year-old land trust with 31 properties totaling nearly 1,700 acres. interest.

Both the Land Trust and its properties have experienced some sort of boom in popularity since the pandemic hit two years ago, Barber said, as she walks along with quarry remains, river views and breathtaking descents through beautiful canyons. Featured Land Walk.

Barber, a New Jersey native who moved to Westerly in 2015, said interest and memberships have clearly “upped” during the pandemic, with many new visitors coming to the Land Trust site.

“There was a lot of traffic,” she said, “and it was fun.”

“People want to be outdoors,” continued Barber, the mother of a 1-year-old son named Weston Paul. “They want to be close to nature, they want more access to the open land.”

Woods’ health was inspired by this growing interest, she said. Currently, the program offers activities such as mindful walks, guided hikes and paddles, outdoor yoga and forest bathing in the Winnerborg Reserve, or “pleasant practices to spend in nature to enhance health and well-being.” .

Guided walks are held weekly in a local reserve or one of the reserves, “uniquely themed” walks are held monthly (including seasonal refreshments), and there are guided paddles in summer.

Barber says she likes to “hone on the go” on guided hikes and mindfulness walks.

As she walks past patches of bright green moss and sprouting ferns, Barber, who is also a yoga teacher on the Barry Coast (she teaches tandem yoga as well as pre- and post-natal yoga), said that with the development of the Land Trust program Interest is growing and staff will continue to explore new options.

There is talk of creating a program with herbalists, and an event called “Gong Bath” that involves the healing power of sound.

“We want to expand our program,” Barber said. “We are open to ideas, we are open-minded.”

She said there are already plans for a summer solstice event, and of course there are many other items on the regular calendar besides the Health in the Woods initiative.

The land trust recently acquired 21.47 acres of land in the Potter Hill area of ​​Westerly called the Cottrell Family Preserve, which operates the Barlow Nature Preserve on Westerly-Bradford Road and sponsors a seasonal farmers market in downtown Westerly.​​​

“We also want to be a resource for the community,” Barber said, noting that the Land Trust works with a number of local organizations — For example, while developing the project, Westerly Track & Athletic Club and Barre Coast Yoga.

Deirdre O’Connor from Westerly, a retired physiotherapist, Wahaneeta Preserve, says “Living in Having an active group in the community that promotes connection of body, mind and spirit in the outdoors” gave her “great happiness and hope”.

“I’m excited to align with an organization that has that kind of mission,” she said.

According to its mission statement, the Land Trust’s programs and activities “are designed to protect and improve the environment, agriculture and water resources, and a community’s ‘sense of place’.”

“Westerly is considered a place of special charm and appeal, a source of pride for its inhabitants and a magnet for visitors and new residents,” the statement continued. “Westerly Land Trust aims to protect and enhance this reputation. .”

O’Connor also spoke about nature’s healing power, saying she had “always been impressed with the energy, enthusiasm and commitment of the Land Trust staff”.

The more opportunities to share activities that provide “respite and relief,” the better, she said.

Back in Riverwood, which was acquired by the Land Trust in 2002 as a gift from The Nature Conservancy, Barber walks through patches of bright green moss and budding ferns. Soon the land will be resplendent with colorful rhododendrons and mountain laurels, she said.

“It’s a hidden gem,” Barber said. “The west wind is a gem.”

nbfusaro@thewesterlysun.com

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