Guest Column: A Partnership that’s helping our local trails thrive

May 29, 2021

A recent study found that children with attention deficits concentrate better after a walk in the park. It seems even short exposures to the outdoors can supplant the need for prescription drugs. Those of us who have felt the clarity and calm after a stroll on the trail won’t be surprised to hear this. In fact, science is catching up to what Montanans have always known about the variety of ways the outdoors improves our health. Nature really is the best medicine, it heals us body and soul.

Imagine the deep-voiced, fast-talking promotional commercial during your favorite television show. “NatureRx is commonly used to help treat depression, anxiety, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, sleeplessness, and high blood pressure. NatureRx prescriptions are free and can be administered through a wide variety of activities including regular walks, bike rides, and trail runs. Beware, common side effects include smiles, joy, fresh air, feelings of gratitude, scenic mountains views, wildlife sightings, community connection and in rare occasions, dirty shoes.”

At the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, we received many notes over the last year and a half sharing stories of the vital role that trails played in supporting mental health, providing safe social connection, and offering a space for physical activity. Trails were suddenly more than simply a ‘nice to have’ amenity — they were critical infrastructure for health and wellbeing. Trails became literal lifelines.

The Main Street to the Mountains trail system was built over the last 30 years thanks to amazing partnerships. One such partner, Bozeman Health, embodies the connection between trails, outdoor spaces and public health. Did you know? In 2012 GVLT approached Bozeman Health with a proposal to create public trails on their property across from the hospital. Seeing the value of public access and an outdoor healthy lifestyle, Bozeman Health graciously agreed. Today, GVLT, Bridger Ski Foundation and Bozeman Health co-manage more than six miles of hiking, biking and cross-country ski trails within the beloved Highland Glen Nature Preserve, engaging our whole community outside year-round.

Not only has Bozeman Health shared their land with the community for trails, but they also continue to invest resources in improving the trail experience and expanding access. This summer GVLT and Bozeman Health will break ground on the Wellness Trail, a connector that will create new, safe, and easy access from the Gallatin Mental Health Center and nearby neighborhoods into the Highland Glen Nature Preserve trail system. With this new connection, the portion of our community that could benefit most significantly from nature’s medicine will have it at their disposal right out their back door.

We’ve been especially struck with Bozeman Health’s commitment to promoting the outdoor healthy life through their support of GVLT’s Discovery Walks program, a series of free, educational guided trail walks for families, newcomers, retirees and visitors alike. In addition, Bozeman Health has led a collaborative effort with GVLT and other partners to advocate for connected, safe, and accessible bicycle and pedestrian options in land use planning processes, so that the future of the Gallatin Valley is more walkable, more bikeable and therefore healthier.

All of this in addition to exceptional leadership during a global health crisis and rapid expansion of locally available mental health services, we’re feeling extra grateful for Bozeman Health’s commitment to community health and wellbeing. Please, join us in celebrating and thanking the entire team at Bozeman Health. We are deeply grateful for the ways they make the Gallatin Valley a healthy place to live and play.

Read the original article here.