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‘Nature’s not closed’

Stay healthy by heading for the woods

Three visitors to the Vielmetti-Peters Conservation Reserve snowshoe on a sunny day. Practing social distancing on the trails and in the woods is still possible on the trails and outdoor recreation can help keep individuals healthy by reducing stress, said Executive Director of the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy Andrea Denham. (Photo courtesy of UPLC)

MARQUETTE — Small talk with your coworkers and every scroll through the various social media platforms has been consumed over the last couple weeks, and most likely in the coming, with the COVID-19 pandemic, but nature can still provide a much needed escape.

As the pandemic has accelerated, Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy Executive Director Andrea Dunham has found peace in the woods and lands protected by the UPLC.

“We are part of nature too as humans,” Denham said. “We do the work that we do for the benefit that places like the [Chocolay Bayou Nature Preserve] have to the community. For a lot of us, I think right now specifically, one of the benefits that I’m finding the most in having protected places like the bayou like our Vielmetti Peters Reserve and all the other spots we’ve got across the U.P. is for mental health.”

The uncertainty of how everyday life in our community will look in the coming months can be incredibly stressful to ponder, but making time for outdoor recreation may be beneficial to one’s overall health, she said.

“But one of the most beautiful things about nature is if we do our work today to protect nature and vital places like the Chocolay bayou for the future, they’re going to be there and they will always be there,” Denham said. “It’s a very comforting sense of permanence when you go out to the woods and see trees that are 200 years old and you see forests that have existed in more or less the same state they’ve been in for hundreds of years, to kind of sit and rest in the clean air and smell the pine trees and smell the smells of spring coming on…”

Stress causes increases in cortisol levels and weakens the immune system. Having an outlet like going on a hike can provide a mental break and social distancing is a bit simpler in the woods, she said.

The UPLC, which promotes healthy ecosystems and communities by providing permanent legal protection and ecological management of conservation lands, offers a few spots where the public can enjoy a breath of fresh air with little risk of exposure:

≤ The Chocolay Bayou Nature Preserve: The bayou is 13 acres of wetlands, located just off the Iron Ore Heritage Trail in Harvey, that acts as a stop over for migrating birds like waterfowl and song birds that stop on their way from South America and Mexico to Canada.

“Within the next couple weeks the Chocolay Bayou is going to be absolutely teeming with beautiful birds singing their songs. It’s going to be great,” Denham said.

There have been reports this week of otter and coyote sightings in the area, she added.

Interpretive signs tell hikers of the passing birds and traditional uses of some of the plants in the area.

“It’s a great place to bring kids, if folks have kids they’re trying to educate and keep entertained, it’s a really good place to learn and keep your mind active and off of the situation,” Denham said.

≤ The Vielmetti-Peters Conservation Reserve: The reserve is a 123-mile working forest with roughly four miles of trail to explore. The reserve is located near the Marquette Meijer at the end of Brickyard Road. The trails are currently best for snowshoeing, Denham said, as they need to be packed down. Those who are able can safely move downed trees or call the UPLC to let them know the state of the trials. The three loops on the trail system offer a diverse ecosystem, the UPLC website states.

≤ Tory’s Woods Conservation Preserve: This preserve, located near Munising roughly 14 miles past the M28 and U.S. 41 crossroads, is 230 acres of forest, wetland habitat and wildlife. Though a longer drive to this destination, the preserve has roughly three miles of trail and a cross loop, so visitors have the option of a shorter or longer hike.

Yoopers are known for their strength and resilience during trying times, but what unites us as a community is our connection to the land whether it provides us with a job, resources or recreation, Denham said.

“I think that the most important thing for us as a community right now is to remember that we’re all in this together no matter what our backgrounds or motivations or beliefs are,” she said. “What’s going to be important in the coming months and over the next year as we move through this together is that we are in this together. There are really big things that do unite all of us and it’s going to take all of us working together to move our community into the future.”

For directions to protected lands or more information visit uplandconservancy.org.

Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is tcarey@miningjournal.net.

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