Connect with Nature at Cheaha State Park
October 4, 2017
From Healthy Horizons

Most of my generation grew up in or close to wide open green spaces: farms and forests. But the past two generations are less likely to have spent time on dirt roads and grassy paths. As a conservationist and a dreamer, I value our public lands on so many levels. To look out and see a vast uninhabited mountain, to hike a trail anticipating the wildlife and wildflowers along the journey, to hear the rumble of a majestic waterfall, and to know that all of this is waiting for me whenever I seek it. Cheaha State Park and Wilderness is a true sanctuary for a diverse community of visitors: the weary traveler, the passionate adventurer, the artists, the dreamers, and those who simply enjoy being close to nature in all its splendor.
— Renee Simmons Raney, park operations supervisor and director of events at Cheaha State Park

Nature deficit disorder is a phrase I learned from Dr. Richard Louv and his books about the effects of spending too little time outdoors on children. It’s a condition that affects many adults, too. Despite the known physical and emotional benefits, such as reducing stress, increasing mental productivity, lowering blood pressure, and easing symptoms of depression, many people still don’t connect with nature.  It’s a problem the team at Cheaha State Park is tackling with their nature, arts and wellness programs.

Funded with grants, the programs target adults (but many are kid-friendly) and, so far, 70 percent of attendees are women.

“If you haven’t connected with nature, it may seem scary, even for adults,” Raney says. “My objective is to get women outdoors free of stress whether they’re alone or in a group.”

The park recently hosted a popular Native American pottery-making workshop. Participants spent time in the class and took breaks for walks or to simply sit outside. Raney says it’s an opportunity to gain exposure for people who don’t usually spend time in nature.

“People who may not be inclined to visit the park will come to the workshops because they’re curious about the topics, and they feel the benefits of being off the grid even for an hour,” she adds. “We’ve had 100 percent positive responses, and participants have told us they intend to visit the park again.”

Along with workshops about journaling, watercoloring, and basket-making, you can also experience overnight backpacking, kayaking, and mountain biking. The park team provides loaner bikes, kayaks, backpacks, and other equipment, when needed.

“We don’t want our guests to feel as if they have to make an expensive investment so we make it possible to try outdoor activities for a few hours without that commitment.”

One laid-back workshop focuses on hammocking; participants are encouraged to simply relax and find their playful, creative spirit. “That one will make you feel like a kid again,” she laughs.

The park team is working with other wellness professionals to expand their workshops. Upcoming events will include a yoga hike, field to table cooking lessons, learning about medicinal plants and herbs, and creating fairy houses. A Cheaha Wilderness Women event will combine many of these activities over a long weekend at Alabama’s ‘island in the sky.’

You can find more information about upcoming events on Facebook at Cheaha State Park-Alabama.