Opportunities for improving human and ecosystem health through recreation in nature
Kuhn, Penelope, S
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In Canada, less than 20% of adults and 10% of children and youth are getting the recommended amount of daily physical activity (ParticipACTION, 2015). Concurrently, the amount of sedentary indoor recreational screen time is exceeding recommended guidelines (ParticipACTION, 2015). Considerable research now shows that outdoor activity in natural environments benefits human mental and physical health (Berman et al., 2012; Louv, 2008, p159; Moore, 2014; Taylor, Kuo, & Sullivan, 2001) and the ecosystem (Chawla, 2009; Louv, 2008, p150; McCurdy, Winterbottom, Mehta, & Roberts, 2010). Accordingly, the federal, provincial, and regional levels of government are moving to increase peoples’ connection to nature through recreation (CPRA, 2015; Government of Nova Scotia, 2015; G. Gallagher, Active Living Coordinator for Halifax, personal communication, February 1, 2016). Richard Louv, who created the term ‘nature-deficit disorder’, and other leaders in the field suggest that creation of spaces that foster interaction with nature need to be incorporated into community plans (Louv, 2008, p151; Moore, 2014; Chawla, 2015). Such spaces should encourage un-programmed hands-on learning experiences for children and families rather than systematic knowledge-based teaching of nature (Louv, 2008, p151). Two ways to foster such experiences are through interpretation and natural playscapes. Interpretation is concerned with how appreciation and understanding of objects, artifacts, landscapes or sites can be communicated in interesting and exciting ways (Ham, 1992; Veverka, 1998, p20). Natural playscapes offer opportunities for hands-on interaction, providing a rich unstructured learning space (Keeler, 2008, p16), where children and families can develop environmental literacy. Both types of experiences can deepen connections to the natural environment and instill a sense of environmental stewardship, which benefits the ecosystem in the long-term (Chawla, 2009; Louv, 2008, p150; McCurdy et al., 2010). Halifax is creating a new nature trail around Nichols Lake. Phase 1 of the Western Common Wilderness Common (WCWC) Master Plan. The Master Plan’s guiding principles are founded in environmental sustainability and recreation: to uphold both ecological and recreational connectivity and water quality (EDM, 2010, p73). This site offers opportunities for improving ecosystem and human health through interpretive programming for the new trail and nature-based play at the adjacent Prospect Road Community Centre (PRCC). This project represents first steps toward these goals: an interpretive plan for the WCWC Phase 1 initiative, and proposed nature-play locations and design assessments for the PRCC. Principles derived from best practice reviews guide the work. Interpretation literature by leaders in the field establishes that in order to enhance users’ experiences interpretation must have a relevant theme, be organized and enjoyable. A key technique for increasing interpretation’s relevance is to make it personal; this can be achieved by drawing upon universal concepts related to natural processes, emotions or ideas. This interpretive plan focuses on water quality, paying tribute to the WCWC’s history as Halifax’s back up water supply in the 1950s. The importance of water to all living organisms lends itself well to universal concepts (i.e. life, thirst) and one of the objectives of this project: to spark or strengthen peoples’ connection to the landscape and evoke a sense of environmental stewardship. A suggested theme statement is, Are you thirsty? You won’t survive longer than a week without water. The site’s natural history, and specific site resources related to water, create the interpretive plan’s backbone. Geology, hydrology, soils, and habitat types are described and interpretive sub-theme topics for 19 identified site resources are recommended. Future interpretive programming can focus on one of three more prevalent sub-theme topics: glaciation, how plants drink water, and water energy environments. Another approach is to have an eclectic interpretive program incorporating numerous sub-theme narratives under the over-arching subject of water. Interpretive programming examples are provided for two site resources. A range of interpretive services (i.e. brochures, signs, guided hikes) is described, as are next steps such as partnering with outside organizations and creating a budget. Nature-based play experts use design principles to create sensory-rich environments that encourage movement, elements critical to healthy child development. Numerous ingredients can be incorporated into play areas to achieve this: water, sand, plants, hills, pathways, open spaces, and sound. Four sites around the PRCC have potential to be nature-based play areas with these kinds of ingredients. Site and design assessments reveal a unique mix of opportunities and constraints for each location. A concept design example was created for the site which already has numerous nature-play ingredients and affords opportunity for inclusive design. The concept features a hand water pump, expanded sand play area, loose-parts play, hillslide, and a significant increase in vegetation amount and variety. Next steps involve considering the site and design assessments together with the community’s interests and available funding. An Additional Resources section provides the community with a path forward for nature-play space development.