Welcome to the latest instalment of the Nearby Nature Project! Some 25 years ago I learned that fostering my relationship with Mother Nature is essential to my well-being. So I absorb a daily dose of Vitamin N(ature) gardening in our yard, walking/cycling in a nearby park or hiking to the top of a mountain.
I know I’m not alone in my discovery that being outside is good for mind and body. Increasingly, mainstream media articles extoll the benefits of spending time in nature. And hashtags like #playoutside, #optoutside, #greentimenotscreentime, and #1000hoursoutside have growing numbers of avid followers. These Nearby Nature Project posts are where I reflect on my connectedness to Nature and share interesting resources and news stories.
Canada’s park prescription initiative started a few years ago. But I only learned about it this month, when Parks Canada partnered with PaRx. Why is this a big deal? Because it allows participating physicians to write a prescription to spend time in nature. And that prescription results in the patient receiving an Adult Parks Canada Discovery Pass through the mail!
A Parks Canada Discovery Pass provides 12 months of access to more than 80 destinations. These include National Parks, National Historic Sites, and National Marine Conservation Areas. With the federal government’s commitment to protect 30 percent of our lands and oceans by 2030, that number is likely to grow.
Banff National Park is our closest Discovery Pass destination. We recently headed to Lake Minnewanka, just outside of Banff townsite, for a sunrise photoshoot and winter walk.
Bow Valley Parkway Cycling
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of our favourite Banff National Park activities is cycling the Bow Valley Parkway. So today’s Parks Canada announcement re: another 3 years of vehicle-free riding from the Banff interchange to Johnston Canyon sparked joy!
This year, Parks Canada will launch a three-year cycling pilot program along the Bow Valley Parkway’s eastern section. This decision is informed by feedback from recent public engagement on cycling and considers operational requirements, and park management priorities. Each spring and fall from May 1 to June 25 and from September 1 to September 30, vehicle access will be restricted along the eastern 17 km of the parkway to allow for an enhanced cycling experience.https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/banff/info/gestion-management/cyclisme-cycling, accessed Feb 15, 2022
Access to Johnston Canyon’s day-use area and campground, will be maintained via Castle Junction and the TransCanada Highway during the pilot program.
Parks Canada will monitor results of this pilot to guide future planning and decisions.
What’s your nearest or favourite National Park or National Historic Site?
Cultivating a Nature Connection
Last month I said I’d be working my way through the University of Derby’s Nature Connectedness course. At this point, I’ve made it through the introduction and two units. So I have six more units to go. I figure this is one of those instances where you get out of it what you put into it, so I’ve been taking my time on the assignments and delving into some of the linked materials. I’ll share key points and an overall review next month.
The instructor is Professor Miles Richardson, and since 2015 I’ve been following his work on the benefits of spending time with nature. He shares his research findings through his @findingnature account on Twitter. If you’re ready to take the course, it’s free! Register here.
Nearby Nature Project this Month
I love new-fallen snow! It makes everything look fresh, highlights individual trees in a distant mountainside forest, and is great for winter sports. And I usually enjoy heading out to shovel the sidewalk and driveway!
But for me, the coolest thing about new-fallen snow is that it’s a medium for time travel! Only soft earth/mud following spring melt or heavy rain offers the same opportunity to outdoor explorers.
For example, while I’ve yet to see an otter in the wild, I know I’ve passed closely in time to at least one otter in Calgary and one in Canmore!
Just this morning I noticed that a coyote and two deer crossed the street near the top of the stairs I take to our nearest grocery store. I didn’t actually see three wild animals. I saw their tracks from several hours earlier. And on my way home, I could tell that only one other human came down the stairs since I’d descended 45 minutes earlier.
Out and about in Canmore, we sometimes cross time paths with deer and elk. The giveaway? Often it’s their tracks in the snow. Sometimes, though, we spot oval bare patches in the snow, where the elk or deer bedded down for the night.
It’s fairly common to see multiple sets of tracks in the snow. Sometimes the tracks are familiar, sometimes not. I often wonder how much earlier I’d have needed to be out to actually spot those critters, rather than just crossing time paths with them. And how much time does a squirrel let pass before following the path of a coyote?
If a track is unfamiliar, I’ll use my foot, my hand or my trekking pole to capture the scale and pattern of the tracks. Back home, I try to identify the animal tracks so I can recognize them the next time our time paths cross.
Why Keep Watch For Animal Tracks?
Even if you think the idea of time paths crossing is too strange, there are two other reasons to keep an eye out for animal tracks in fresh snow or soft earth. For one thing, it’s a reminder that we co-exist with wildlife, deepening connectedness with nature. Even in cities, foxes, coyotes, squirrels, hares and birds share our surroundings. We had a five point buck in our suburban back yard just yesterday. It doesn’t get much more nearby than that!
Second, keeping an eye out for animal tracks (or other signs) is a reminder to take simple steps to help prevent negative human-wildlife interactions. Don’t litter. Keep dogs on leash except in off-leash dog parks or your fenced yard. Outside the city, make noise while you’re out and about, carry bear spray and know how to use it. Don’t feed the bears! For other sage advice, check the Wildsmart website or similar resources in your area.
Time to hit “publish” and head outside for today’s dose of #VitaminN.
Before you head outdoors, please consider leaving a comment describing one of your recent #nearbynature moments, a way you plan to enjoy #nearbynature over the coming month, your favourite resource to support your #playoutside habit and/or any feedback on topics you’d like to see covered in an upcoming edition of Nearby Nature Project. Thanks!
Over the next month, I’ll be finishing up my online course: Nature Connectedness: For a new relationship with nature. March 3 is World Wildlife Day. And here in the Bow Valley, we’ll be watching for signs of spring. I spotted a couple of male American Robins the other day. And I’ve already seen leaf buds on some trees and shrubs.