Shift the Conversation: Environment
The environment is vital to our wellbeing and our ability to thrive into the future. Our awareness of, and concern for, the sustainability of the environment is reflected in the ways we as individuals and communities influence and interact with our surroundings. The environment domain also explores how environmental goods and services touch our everyday quality of life.
Pinery Provincial Park Community Walking Program
The environment is the foundation upon which human societies are built. When the environment is healthy, so too can communities thrive. Participating in physical activity in nature can have huge positive health benefits, which is one reason why protecting the natural environment is vitally important.
Friends of Pinery Park, a local group dedicated to preserving and promoting Pinery Provincial Park, noticed that while the park was a thriving tourist attraction, the community of Grand Bend was not actively engaged in the park and benefiting from all that the park had to offer. By teaming up with Grand Bend Community Health Centre and Grand Bend Foundation, the Pinery Walking Group was formed in 2010 to improve physical activity and get people outdoors to enjoy nature.
The walking group meets weekly to participate in warm-up stretches and a walks through different Pinery trails led by volunteers. Participants may use one of the 8 free park passes donated by community members and organizations. While walking, participants learn about the local ecosystem, and are encouraged to access other health promotion services, become volunteers to lead the walks and to get involved in community initiatives.
On the first day of the group, 45 people showed up at the meeting location, indicating the extent to which there was a need and an excitement in the community for this sort of program. Now, in its third year of existence, the program averages about 16 people per walk.
Overtime, as participants and volunteers became more committed to the program, they indicated that they would like the program to expand in two important ways.
Firstly, one group decided that they wanted to take a more active role in maintaining the trails that they valued. By working with the county, this group was able to access the tools and training necessary to do trail maintenance in the areas surrounding the boundaries of the provincial park. In doing so, they went from being recreational users of the park to active stewards of their environment.
Secondly, there was a demonstrated need for an extension of the program for seniors, for whom accessing the trails in winter was undesirable. By pairing up with the local museum, Grand Bend Community Health Centre launched an indoor walking group in the winter months where seniors have free access to the museum in order to walk, enjoy the collections and socialize. Going in to its third winter, the program has seen a consistent participant rate and received very positive feedback from participants and the museum alike.
Through the simple activity of walking together, the Pinery Trail Walking Program has successfully brought together community members to enhance participation in physical and social activities while also inspiring participants to take action in conserving and protecting their environment.