INDIANA – The idea that spending time in nature is good for our health is widely acknowledged. The USDA Forest Service recognizes that people and nature are inseparable and highly interdependent.
In Indiana’s Hoosier National Forest employees saw an opportunity to encourage people to get outdoors while also building community. The forest recently partnered with Indiana University Health Bloomington Hospital for a “Health and Public Lands” pilot program. Program goals include providing therapeutic nature-based experiences for community members on National Forest System lands and strengthening community ties to public lands.
Through the program, Forest Service staff and medical professionals guide participants on nature “wellness outings” and reach out to local organizations that would most benefit from exposure to nature. Another component of the program involves medical professionals educating Forest Service staff, as well as a volunteer service day on the Hoosier for Indiana University health team members.
Funding for the pilot program supports interns who coordinate the wellness outings and create materials conveying the physical and mental benefits of nature. It was provided by the Forest Service’s Washington Office and Indiana University’s School of Public Health. An Indiana University art class plans to design a logo for use on fliers, media and reusable water bottles to help promote the program.
The wellness outings delivered by Indiana University Health and the Forest Service have the potential to 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 well-being. The Hoosier National Forest has the potential to serve as a premier destination for such outings and services.
Indiana University 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 Hoosier National Forest is currently developing a toolbox for other forests that includes documents, photos and lessons learned from the pilot.