Beginning this month, the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge (HKPR) District Health Unit and the Learning Disabilities Association of the City of Kawartha Lakes will host weekly hikes until the end of October to encourage local youth to get active and experience the physical and mental health benefits of spending time in natural settings such as Conservation Areas and parks.
The hikes are being hosted as part of the Mood Walks program, which is a province-wide initiative promoting getting active in nature as a method for benefitting both physical and mental health. Led by the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario, in partnership with Conservation Ontario and Hike Ontario, Mood Walks provides training and support for community mental health agencies and social service organizations to launch educational hiking programs, and explore nearby trails and Conservation Areas. The Health Unit and Learning Disabilities Association were both successful applicants to the 2016 program, and have joined forces to offer a regular local hiking program for those who are interested. This year, the program is focused on attracting youth and young adults between the ages of 14-29 to join the hikes.
“I think it’s the community’s responsibility to work collaboratively for and with youth and young adults to create new and different activities that increase opportunities to connect in healthy ways and have fun. I think Mood Walks will accomplish just that. It will keep our minds and bodies healthy while we have fun geocaching, checking out turtles, bugs, photography, art, music, good food, and more,” says Fyffe Hunting, Public Health Worker at HKPR District Health Unit, and coordinator of the local Mood Walks program. “I often hear youth and young adults saying there’s nothing to do in the City of Kawartha Lakes, and so I think we need to create it together; for them and with them. Through this program, I think youth will discover some awesomeness in their own backyard, renew connections with nature, and have fun while they discover some pretty great things about themselves too”.
The event coordinators are hoping that local youth and young adults will provide input to the project along the way to help shape the outcome. This approach will allow participants to become more engaged, as they won’t just be participating, they’ll also be helping to create the program. “Ultimately”, says Hunting, “the project will provide the opportunity to get active, meet new people, and try something new”.
The first hike in the local series will take place on May 26th at 4:30 p.m. at the Lindsay Public Library. Following the initial hike, a full schedule of hikes will be available for the remainder of the program. A number of hikes will take place at Ken Reid Conservation Area, owned and operated by Kawartha Conservation, and located just outside of Lindsay. The Conservation Area offers visitors with a diverse nature experience, featuring wetlands, Sturgeon Lake waterfront, and over 12 km of forested hiking trails of various lengths and terrain. Transportation will be provided to many of the hikes, and participants might also like to bike or walk from Lindsay along the Victoria Rail Trail which leads straight through the Conservation Area.
Kawartha Conservation is a local partner of this program, as well as one of 36 Conservation Authorities across the province represented by Conservation Ontario, a primary Mood Walks partner at the provincial level.
Rob Messervey, CAO of Kawartha Conservation says that examining the connections between our health and spending time outdoors is a topic increasingly on the radar of Conservation Authorities across Ontario. “Through Conservation Ontario, Conservation Authorities are involved in a number of programs and collaborative research initiatives further exploring these connections, with Mood Walks being one example”, says Messervey. “There is increasing evidence of the benefits that nature can have on both our physical and mental health. I’ve even heard examples of doctors prescribing hikes as a method for treating a variety of health conditions.”
Additional program partners include the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Lindsay Boys and Girls Club, the Warehouse Youth Centre, Big Country MMA, Kawartha Lakes Public Library- Lindsay Branch, Chimo Youth & Family Services Inc., the Muskies, Community Living, Community Care, and many volunteers.
For more information about the provincial Mood Walks program, visit their website http://www.moodwalks.ca/.