Typically, a nature walk is a relaxing experience—at least, in theory. But how often instead of relaxing do you get distracted thinking about all the things on your to-do list? A new experience at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island can help ease your mind a little bit more.
The refuge earlier this year unveiled its Mindfulness Trail, a third-of-a-mile path along a marsh in the Bailey Tract. Along the path are five signs, each with a QR code (so be sure to bring along your smartphone and ear buds). Each QR code is a link to a different short recording on basic mindfulness techniques. The purpose of mindfulness is being able to live in the moment, so each recording will encourage participants to stay grounded and engage their senses. For example, the first recording is from retired orthopedic surgeon Dr. Joe Blanda, who describes the health benefits of nature. Studies have shown that just being in nature can lower blood pressure, boost the immune system and reduce stress, among other health benefits.
The idea for the trail grew out of brainstorming sessions at the refuge during the early days of the pandemic. The refuge was attempting to find safe and relaxing ways to draw people back out of their homes. Staff started with guided mindfulness walks, then began using the recordings. In February, they held the inaugural Wellness Week full of activities such as yoga classes and wellness seminars.
Even if mindfulness isn’t your thing (or taking your iPhone along on your walks), the trail is still a peaceful way to disconnect, said supervisory refuge ranger Toni Westland. “There’s no better place than the Bailey Tract to feel like you’re alone in the wilderness,” she says. For more information, visit dingdarlingsociety.org.