One of the positive developments coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an overwhelming surge in outdoor recreation, and the lived realization of the astonishing health benefits of spending time outdoors. As social distancing measures increased, people throughout the country have turned to nature as a source of healing and comfort, the Calumet region included.
In a recent article in the NW Indiana Times, Mitch Barloga, the active transportation manager for NIRPC stated that “Nationally, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has estimated usage up about 200% over last year. In Indiana, the Department of Natural Resources reported a 108% increase in March and another 45% increase in April over similar counts in 2019.” Illinois has seen a similar surge in outdoor trail use. In a recent NPR article Audrey Wennink, director of transportation for the Metropolitan Planning Council stated “Biking is really on fire right now”, adding that “many cities are expanding bike-share programs to accommodate the pandemic-related increase in walking, with new trails, sidewalk improvements and safety enhancements.”
The Indiana Dunes National Park has also seen a massive surge in visitation. As the lakefront path and beaches closed in Chicago, massive crowds flooded the National Park in search of some outdoor solace. “Now, largely thanks to COVID-19, every day at Indiana Dunes National Park is like the Fourth of July.”
This new surge in outdoor recreation is not only a fun way to spend a weekend but is also good for our health. This connection between nature and human health is highlighted within SHIFT’S Health & Nature Webinar Series. This series tackles an array of subjects surrounding the theme of health and nature, with topics such as Nature as Medicine, Stress and Nature, Conservation and the New Civil Rights movement, and many more. One of the panelists, Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, MD stated “I have been recommending and prescribing nature to my patients for last 4-5 years, there is tremendous mental and physical healing to be found in nature.”
Expanding on these national and local trends, the Collaborative saw the need to create a bi-state natural area and active transportation map to highlight the many outdoor recreation opportunities in the Calumet, using the power of nature to improve health by connecting residents to their community green spaces. Many of these resources exist but none incorporate the entire bi-state Calumet region or connected active transportation options to access them. Following multiple meetings with stakeholders and partners throughout the region, the Collaborative is working with Openlands to add Calumet specific sites to their Get Outside map. The Get Outside map is integrated with google maps, allowing users to choose biking and walking routes to reach their newly discovered outdoor destinations.
Do you have a favorite outdoor space in the Calumet that is not on the map? Add it to the Get Outside map by submitting this quick google form.