Finding Wellness in the Forest - Hoosier National Forest

The Hoosier National Forest and Indiana University (IU) Health Bloomington Hospital have a partnership agreement for a “Health and Public Lands” pilot program.  The goals of the program are to provide therapeutic nature-based experiences for community members on National Forest System lands, and strengthen community ties to public lands. 

The program includes Forest Service staff and medical professionals guiding participants on nature “wellness outings” and reaching out to local organizations that would most benefit from exposure to nature.

Funding was provided by the Washington Office and IU School of Public Health to support interns who coordinate the outings and create materials with the physical and mental health benefits of nature.  An IU art class will design a logo for use on fliers, media and re-usable water bottles.

Other components of the program include education of Forest Service staff by medical professionals and a volunteer service day on the forest for IU Health team members.

The Forest Service recognizes the importance of working with partners to support the interdependence of National Forest System lands and neighboring gateway communities. The wellness projects delivered by IU Health and the Forest Service could enrich the economic, environmental, and social benefits that National Forest System lands deliver to communities. These benefits include quality of life, personal wellness, understanding of the interdependence of healthy ecosystems and community wellbeing. The Hoosier National Forest has the potential to serve as a premier destination for such outings and services.

IU Health recognizes the importance of National Forest System lands to provide inspiring settings to achieve personal health-related goals and enhance an individual's sense of purpose during recovery or treatment. With the program, physicians can recommend wellness outings to patients who would benefit from outdoor experiences.

The Forest Service is developing a toolbox for other forests with documents, photos, and lessons learned from this pilot program.

Last fall, participants braved temperatures in the 30s for the first wellness outing.

Photo caption:  Last fall, participants braved temperatures in the 30s for the first wellness outing.  This outing was a 3.5 mile hike on the Pate Hollow Trail, just south of Bloomington, Indiana.  A local primary care physician, who specializes in weight management, attended and conversed with the participants.  The physician was also made more aware of the health benefits of activities in nature.