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The time is now to hit the trail

  • Mike Baltz poses for a selfie with his wife, Monique.

    Mike Baltz poses for a selfie with his wife, Monique.

By Mike Baltz
updated: 5/4/2020 7:36 AM

If you're a nature lover like me, a silver lining to this "Great Pause" has been that lately many folks have more time to get outside and enjoy beautiful southern Illinois. I've seen a lot more cars in the parking area at Green Earth's Chautuaqua Bottoms Nature Preserve and the other day, there was the need for overflow parking at their Fernlands Preserve off Kennedy Road.

It's certainly easy to take nature for granted when you are busy, or maybe just watch something on "Animal Planet" at the end of a long day, but there's no substitute for actually getting out on a trail and seeing, hearing and feeling the plants and animals around us. When you get to know those things, then you can start loving them. And the nature lover club is always accepting new members!

And did you know that there is a growing body of scientific evidence that shows time spent outdoors is good for you? Numerous studies are showing the physical and mental health benefits of just BEING outside. The benefits include reduced blood pressure, reduced levels of anxiety and depression, increased immune function and improved mental clarity. You get all that from just being in the woods. I call it Vitamin Tree. In some countries, notably Finland, doctors are even prescribing time in the woods to their patients -- a minimum of five hours a month, to be exact!

Personally, I'm a trail ... stroller. You know the type; walking slowly and stopping for no apparent reason, looking at something through binoculars, taking pictures. Oh, and taking selfies, too. It can easily take me an hour to traverse a one-mile trail, so I get plenty of "Vitamin Tree" when I'm outdoors.

Of course, the opportunities to get outside in southern Illinois and hike/walk/stroll on a trail are numerous. Alan McPherson wrote a great guide to our trails, "Fifty Nature Walks in Southern Illinois." The book actually describes over 100 "nature hikes" and provides detailed maps and descriptions that will get you to the trails and keep you on them.

Terry Treacy wrote the forward to McPherson's book and she begins, "I have the best backyard in the country, southern Illinois." I agree!

I'm actually writing this early on Earth Day. I will spend a few minutes on my deck this morning watching and listening to birds and later today I'm going to plant a tree. I'm telling you this because a big motivator for me doing this "On the Trail" series is to be the change I wish to see in the world. So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I'm trying to save the world as human habitat!

With that said, I look forward to taking you on the trail with me this summer and hopefully seeing you out there. If we do see each other, let's take a selfie together -- albeit with appropriate physical distancing. Because if you don't take a selfie, did it really even happen?

• Mike Baltz has a PhD in Biology from the University of Missouri and writes about changing the world from his home in Carbondale.

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