I am a Portland, Oregon native, but for more than fifteen years, I’ve lived in Douglas County (Southern Oregon). When my husband and I first moved to the rural area we now call home, we were in awe of all the outdoor recreational opportunities that were available. We live about five miles from a large reservoir surrounded by trees and a hiking trail. We can zip down to Reedsport on the coast within about an hour with only minimal traffic to slow our trip. I can ride my bike to local wineries or bicycle along rural roads punctuated with sheep, groves of fruit trees, and slow-moving streams. I live within two blocks of a park with a large pond and walking paths. We have no shortage of rivers for fishing (including the Umpqua River) and lots of waterfalls and lakes to enjoy as well.
Studies have suggested that outdoor exercise and activities are good for our health. Spending time in nature—even if it’s only for twenty minutes—may lower our stress levels and can improve our overall health and wellbeing. Because of my rich outdoor environment and because I am aware that spending time outside is beneficial, I try to take full advantage of the opportunities surrounding me.
An Issue We Cannot Ignore
I had planned to write about the importance of spending regular time outdoors as part of healthy living. Then I was reminded of the tragic fires in California that are threatening people’s lives, destroying homes, and changing the overall environment. Some of the people who have lost nearly everything may have spent time as children enjoying the same kinds of outdoor recreational opportunities that I am currently enjoying.
After the Paradise fires last year in Northern California, a few of those individuals who were displaced moved into my community. For now, these newer residents are enjoying what might arguably be one of the best recreational environments on the West Coast.
Last summer, we had a number of fires in Douglas County. On a couple of occasions, highways were closed while firefighters battled blazes. There were also a few days when we received health advisories about smoke in the atmosphere. But by this time last year, it was easy to forget that we are also vulnerable to irreparable environmental harm—harm that is also hazardous to our own health.
Supporting a Healthier Future
For those of us who have been able to enjoy an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities, we can appreciate how our own health is related to environmental health. Had we known twenty or thirty years ago what we know now, I have no doubt that many of us would be pushing for legislative changes that would protect the environment for not only our own benefit but for future generations. But now we do know. Now we can make conscious choices to support a healthier environmental future.
While I do take small individual steps to care for our environment, I believe the challenges we are facing will require a collective will that we have yet to find. In the meantime, our health, the health of our planet, and the future of our children and grandchildren are at risk.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree that our environment is at risk? If so, what can we do on individual and collective levels to protect the future?