The Healing Power of Nature
About a week after much of Iowa began staying home to help slow the spread of COVID-19, Chad Graeve, a natural resource specialist and park ranger for the Pottawattamie County Conservation Board, sent me this message: “I’ve been noticing increased usage of Hitchcock [Nature Center] all week long. We’re usually pretty quiet in the parking lot during the week and packed on the weekends. This week has brought steady usage, even with rotten weather. I’ve been interacting with visitors and they are people that need to get out of the house and have a desire to be active. On Tuesday I was conversing with one man and, as I always do, I asked him if he had been to Hitchcock before. He responded, ‘This is my second time. I was here on Friday and I left having never felt better. So, I’m back today.’”
INHF helped protect this Loess Hills gem and create Hitchcock Nature Center in the early 1990s. It has grown into one of the most popular county parks in western Iowa and is a place of refuge for native Iowa plants and wildlife. It has become evident, especially lately, that it is also a place of refuge for people.
I have heard from so many people in recent weeks that getting outdoors has been healing for them, especially their mental health. According to a recent Google mobility study, Iowa has seen a 134% increase in usage of parks since social distancing guidelines were implemented. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has reported a similar spike in trail use across the country.
You have likely long-known how important outdoor recreation is for Iowans, but in these challenging times there has been increased awareness of the vital role that nature plays in our well-being. While our day-to-day lives have changed drastically, what INHF accomplishes with your help has remained steady.
We are still working with landowners and partners to protect Iowa’s special places. We have continued to engage with volunteers — from a distance — to accomplish important work on the land or from the comfort and safety of their homes. We have stayed in touch with lawmakers to advocate for policy that improves the natural health and beauty of our state and expands access to the outdoors for Iowans.
Because of your generous support — even in difficult times — our critical work of protecting and restoring Iowa’s land, water and wildlife has continued. No matter what the future holds, nature, trails and parks will still be there, always inviting and ready to renew us.