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Crow Wing Energized: The Nature Network raises awareness of local outdoor recreational opportunities

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The Nature Network is a coalition of several community organizations with the goal of raising awareness of local outdoor recreational opportunities.
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Need some inspiration and great ideas for getting outside in the beautiful Brainerd lakes area? Look no further than the Nature Network! The Nature Network is a coalition of several community organizations with the goal of raising awareness of local outdoor recreational opportunities, inspiring people to get active outdoors, and promoting the benefits of physical activity and mental health that come with an active lifestyle.

“The Brainerd Lakes YMCA began the work group by inviting Crow Wing Energized, Kinship, Mount Ski Gull, WonderTrek Children’s Museum and the Arboretum to the table,” explains Candice Zimmermann, executive director of the Northland Arboretum. “We began meeting in December of 2020 in hopes of getting people outdoors as a way of improving physical and mental health during the pandemic.

“We launched a passport program last year that inspired people to get outdoors and visit the more ‘unknown’ outdoor opportunities in our area. One of our members created a user-friendly map of local places to hike, bike, swim, etc. In addition, we wanted to provide a promotional tool for families that are experiencing financial hardship by sharing what outdoor experiences are free or low-cost,” Zimmermann said.

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Encouraging outside activities for individuals, families, and the community benefits everyone on several levels. “Health outcomes like decreases in incidences of diabetes and cardio-vascular mortality, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and better immune system function can be linked to spending time outdoors. In fact, these positive effects are so well-documented that more and more doctors are issuing ‘nature prescriptions’ to help treat a range of conditions from heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes, to chronic stress, depression and anxiety, insomnia and even PTSD,” notes the Nature Network website .

Families gain unique quality time together participating in outside activities and all members benefit from fresh air, better sleep, a boost in Vitamin D levels, as well as a reduction in anxiety and improved mood. Picnicking, hiking, bird watching, agate hunting or building an outdoor fort also create lifelong memories and build healthy, active habits.

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As individuals and families become healthier, their communities do as well. Amy Gray, executive director of Kinship Partners, said, “The Nature Network is a way for Kinship to provide more opportunities for free and low-cost activities for our partnerships while also expanding our network of support and collaboration within the greater community.

“It’s when kids learn to fish, or learn how to snowshoe, or learn how to plant a garden with their adult partner that epitomizes what Kinship is about – mentors are exposing kids to new activities they may not otherwise experience, and in an environment of trust and security.”

Sharing that experience with a partner can also enhance feelings of connectedness. While we serve all kids from all backgrounds and experiences, many of the kids we serve have experienced significant traumas and providing ways for all kids to connect with nature, to practice mindfulness and self-regulation techniques, and to move their bodies can help mitigate the long-term effects of trauma. Our mission at Kinship is to provide intentional opportunities for meaningful connections and supporting Nature Network provides opportunities for connecting with nature, connecting with ourselves, and connecting with a friend. It’s good for our bodies, minds and souls and absolutely furthers our mission” explains Gray.

The importance of getting out in nature has also been recognized by generous community supporters. “We have been funded by the Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation as well as the Bernick Family Foundation for the purpose of providing the community with a Passport to Nature program and to do additional outreach to the surrounding area. We hope to serve the community by providing a tool that will motivate outdoor play and exploration as well as raise awareness of the multiple opportunities available,” says Zimmermann.

Check out the Nature Network website to get your own Nature Passport, fun outdoor activity ideas, and information on conservation and giving back to the environment. Frequent updates are also posted on their Facebook page @naturenetworkBLA.

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