Aug. 2, 2022Print | PDF
Wilfrid Laurier University’s Catherine Reining is in a cheery mood as she takes a break from collecting data in the middle of a park near the prairie town of Prince Albert, Sask.
“There are benefits to visiting nature, and we saw that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Reining, project coordinator of ParkSeek, a nationwide initiative aimed at gathering and sharing information on the health impacts of parks, protected areas and recreational facilities. “When you look at people’s perceived health and well-being, they report feeling rested, restored, calm after visiting a park or nature.
“People who perceive environments to have higher ecological benefits also report a higher sense of well-being. Being in nature for 120 minutes per week is enough to make a difference.”
There are 12 communities across Canada that Reining and her fellow ParkSeek researchers are assessing for the Public Health Agency of Canada-funded project led by Western University in partnership with Laurier.
“We’re working on field audits to get an objective look at the qualities and features parks have to offer: facilities, restrooms, playgrounds, sports equipment and trails. We’re also looking at the geographical access of the parks,” says Reining.
It’s easy access to Waterloo Park that makes the Laurier Geography instructor’s labs a hit with her students, she adds.
“It’s a quick walk from Laurier’s Waterloo campus and residences. The park has green space, a cricket field, baseball diamond, creek and pond area, and soccer fields. I walk by it every day to get to work.”
If people are looking for a reason to get outside, Reining says the Ontario Parks “Healthy Parks Healthy People” initiative is launching the 30 x 30 Nature Challenge on Aug. 1. This challenge encourages participants to spend 30 minutes a day in nature for 30 days.
Reining also encourages Laurier community members in Waterloo and Brantford to improve their well-being by taking advantage of Laurel Creek Conservation Area, the Grand River, Komoka Provincial Park or Pinery Provincial Park.
“We have 10,000 parks and protected areas across Canada; in Ontario, we almost have 700 including around 50 in Waterloo Region. And yet we still don’t have an awareness of all the nature out there available to us.”
Mhairi Chandler, a Laurier master’s student who is also a ParkSeek researcher, says she rides her bike regularly to Waterloo’s Victoria Park, the Columbia Lake Loop and even St. Jacob’s to get back to nature.
“Spending time in nature can give you a huge boost of well-being: just take a walk on a trail with a friend versus going to the gym for one night.”
Interested in a nearby ParkSeek adventure? The closest to Laurier’s two campuses is the Goderich-to-Guelph (G2G) trail.
“The G2G is worth checking out,” says Reining. “It’s a former rail line converted to a trail, promoting health and well-being – people use it for biking and walking. It’s literally a linear park linking communities together, while promoting environmental protection and preserving agriculture and cultural heritage all together. There’s more accessibility and no fees so it made for a unique case study.”
Chris Lemieux, associate professor at Laurier and John McMurray Research Chair in Environmental Geography, also with ParkSeek, firmly believes that there is huge potential for people to tap into the benefits of seeking green space.
“In the past, when I’ve asked my Geography students how many of them have been to a provincial park, about 10 per cent would raise their hand,” says Lemieux. “We have 10,000 parks and protected areas across Canada; in Ontario, we almost have 700 including around 50 in Waterloo Region. And yet we still don’t have an awareness of all the nature out there available to us.”
For many people living in urban areas, it’s often a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience to head into a provincial or national park and it shouldn’t be, he says
The pandemic revealed just how important nature is to human health and well-being with many Canadians visiting parks for physical, mental and emotional well-being, he added.
“Parks are fantastic places to facilitate social connections for all ages – increasing this engagement is a key goal to access the benefits and learn the value of protecting these environments as well. Everyone should get out there and enjoy Canada’s parks, no matter the season.”
Data generated from ParkSeek could be linked to other health and socio-economic indicators to understand how parks and recreational facilities contribute to population health, thus, providing new tools, technologies and approaches for public health action.
To learn more about the project and sign up to be notified when the project’s activities launch later this year, visit go.ParkSeek.ca.