A year ago today, in celebration of 50 Year Forever Wild, Councilwoman Valerie Cartwright designated October 4 as Ashley Schiff Preserve Day in the Town of Brookhaven. Thank you, Valerie! In recognition of the importance of parks, preserves and open spaces, Kara Hahn and Kirstin Gillibrand helped us celebrate.
In the span of 12 short months, we’ve been beset by a pandemic and economic devastation. People have responded to the crises in part by spending more time outside. In normal times, spending time in nature is associated with a suite of beneficial health outcomes, including short-term changes in psychological, physiological, and cognitive responses in adults and improved learning in children. In COVID-19 times, being outside can bring additional benefits. For instance, walking in nature improves mental health; this study becomes more relevant in the face of the fact that mental health problems are increasingly recognized as a significant and concerning secondary effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I apologize for sounding like a nerd and referencing papers like a geek, but when you say something like, “Go outside! It’s good for you!” it sounds too good to be true. But it is true. Being outside is good for you.
Whether or not my fellow humans are aware of the research, now, more than ever, people are using our trails. Last weekend, while on a walk with the Long Island Botanical Society with maybe 15 community members, Stony Brook University’s Environmental Club passed us, wearing masks and carrying trash bags. We all nodded a hello to each other. As President of the Friends of Ashley Schiff Park, the happiness accrued through the dappled sunlight and the dancing green light above us was compounded by the knowledge that so many people—the botanists, the students, the faculty, the community members—were all enjoying our woods on that glorious fall day. Not that long ago, almost no one knew that this reservoir of trees, shrubs and herbs existed.
Fall is the season of harvests and gratitude. And in a year filled with hardships, walking through our preserve with sunshine and friends, I found a lot to feel grateful for. I’m grateful to Professor Schiff for inspiring so many students, who went on to inspire President Toll to set aside our woods in Schiff’s name. I’m grateful to all of the university presidents and planners who honored President Toll’s promise to keep our forest Forever Wild. I’m grateful to all of the students, faculty and community members who leant their strength, leadership, and love of the outdoors to efforts to remind people that greenspace is important, even critical.
The pandemic makes me appreciate Ashley Schiff Preserve all that much more. Our students need to be outside; our faculty need to be outside, and our community members need to be outside. It’s good for our cognitive abilities, our mental health—and our happiness. Thank you, Stony Brook University, for protecting our 22 acres. I hope you’ll forgive the greediness of my request, but I sincerely hope you can help us with the legislation to permanently protect our Preserve.
In hopes that you’ll walk our trails this month,
Sharon T. Pochron
President, Friends of Ashley Schiff Preserve
Saadi, D., Schnell, I., Tirosh, E., Basagaña, X. and Agay-Shay, K., 2020. There’s no place like home? The psychological, physiological, and cognitive effects of short visits to outdoor urban environments compared to staying in the indoor home environment, a field experiment on women from two ethnic groups. Environmental Research, p.109687.
Lundy, A. and Trawick-Smith, J., 2020. Effects of Active Outdoor Play on Preschool Children’s on-Task Classroom Behavior. Early Childhood Education Journal, pp.1-9.
Dadvand, P., Nieuwenhuijsen, M.J., Esnaola, M., Forns, J., Basagaña, X., Alvarez-Pedrerol, M., Rivas, I., López-Vicente, M., Pascual, M.D.C., Su, J. and Jerrett, M., 2015. Green spaces and cognitive development in primary schoolchildren. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(26), pp.7937-7942.
Olafsdottir, G., Cloke, P., Schulz, A., Van Dyck, Z., Eysteinsson, T., Thorleifsdottir, B. and Vögele, C., 2020. Health benefits of walking in nature: A randomized controlled study under conditions of real-life stress. Environment and Behavior, 52(3), pp.248-274.
Cameron, E., Joyce, K., Delaquis, C., Reynolds, K., Protudjer, J. and Roos, L.E., 2020. Maternal Psychological Distress & Mental Health Services Use during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Kumar, A., Killingsworth, M.A. and Gilovich, T., 2020. Spending on doing promotes more moment-to-moment happiness than spending on having. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 88, p.103971.