It’s a beautiful day and you’ve got some free time. Will you spend it outdoors in nature or hanging out with your friends? Don’t answer – it’s a trick question! You don’t have to choose. It turns out that being social is one of the best ways to enjoy nature.
A recent study, “The Nature of Americans,” found that although most folks say nature is a top interest, they don’t actually spend much time outdoors. The majority of adults surveyed averaged five or fewer hours a week outside, or less than an hour a day.
“Time spent on computers and TV towers over time spent outdoors,” said David Case, the main author of the study and the keynote speaker at the New Jersey Land Conservation Rally on March 2 in New Brunswick.
But there’s hope! The best way to attract more people outside, according to Case, is to make nature experiences social.
“Adults don’t like being in nature by themselves,” he said. “When adults talk about their experiences in nature, their memorable moments nearly always involve other people.”
According to Case, most people don’t need to be sold on the value of nature. They already enjoy nature and recognize its benefits. “It’s fundamental to human health and well-being,” he said.
So should you organize a bike ride with your kids or a bird-watching walk with friends? Yes and yes!
But don’t sit home on your couch if friends and family aren’t available. New Jersey has tons of outdoor clubs, meetups and organized nature events. Joining these groups is a great way to both expand your social circle and enjoy the benefits of spending time in nature.
Here are some suggestions:
- Join a ranger or naturalist guided walk at a park or nature preserve near you. County parks often provide full calendars of outdoor events, including hikes, kayak paddles, bike rides, nature walks, horseback trail rides and more.
- Traveling outside your area? Try a state park. Hardly a day goes by when there isn’t something fun and interesting happening at one of New Jersey’s state parks, forests and recreation areas. For a calendar of events at state parks and forests, go towww.state.nj.us/dep/parksandfo rests/calendar/index.html.
- Join clubs and meetup groups with a focus on the outdoors. Whether you’re young or old, a novice hiker or an experienced backpacker, there’s one for you. The granddaddy of all hiking clubs is the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), which offers dozens of hikes every month in New Jersey and surrounding areas. The Outdoor Club of South Jersey just celebrated its 50th anniversary, and offers bicycling, hiking, canoeing/kayaking, camping, backpacking and cross-country skiing. In northern New Jersey, a club called the Tristate Ramblers offers a hike nearly every day – even on weekdays, when many outdoor clubs are idle.
- Try specialized groups, like Adventures for Women, the New Jersey Young Professionals and the NJ 1K Club, a “peakbagging” club that climbs all of New Jersey’s mountains higher than 1,000 feet.
- If you are sitting too much at work, take a “walking meeting” outside with colleagues. On a walking meeting last week, we at New Jersey Conservation Foundation were thrilled to see a large black bear. Talk about getting the creative juices flowing!
For a list of many of New Jersey’s hiking and outdoor clubs, go to www.njhiking.com/hiking-clubs-nj/. To find additional clubs, go to meetup.com, and enter your zip code to find groups for hikes, dog walks, bike rides, mountain climbing, skiing, sailing and more.
To read “The Nature of Americans” and see more recommendations for getting people outdoors, go to https://natureofamericans.org. The study is based on interviews and surveys of more than 10,000 adults and children, and offers interesting insights into their views of nature, what draws them outside, and what barriers keep them indoors.
And for more information on New Jersey’s preserved lands – including events to get people outdoors and into nature – visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation in Morristown.