Trust Our Land: The link between mental health and conservation | VailDaily.com

Trust Our Land: The link between mental health and conservation

Bergen Tjossem
Trust Our Land
Miller Ranch, permanently protected in 2012, is an easily accessible natural space for all to enjoy.
Special to the Daily

While we all value a healthy and happy community around the holidays, the holiday season means different things for everyone. For many, it is a time of celebration, community and leisure time. For many others, it can be the opposite. In Eagle County, holidays mean a surge in tourism, retail and workloads for a large portion of our community. This is also a time of year when mental health is in the forefront of many people’s minds.

There is a nationwide need for cost effective mental health infrastructure as health care systems struggle to address mental health issues. Fortunately, Colorado and Eagle County have recently invested heavily in mental health services. Colorado is now ranked 29th in overall mental health services, a large improvement over its 43rd in 2017.

A growing body of research suggests that land conservation and open space (sometimes called “greenspace”) within communities are important components of mental health issue prevention and treatment.

Natural medication?

Being outside in nature relieves stress, improves mood and helps people recover from the day-to-day stress of demanding responsibilities and work environments. People who are physically active in nature at least once a week show about half the risk of mental health issues than those who aren’t. Studies also suggest that getting outside into a natural setting can contribute to the treatment of ADHD, anxiety and depression.

While there are vast amounts of undeveloped land above and surrounding our community, that land is not accessible to everyone equally due to lack of transportation, physical difficulty, time constraints, etc. For everyone to benefit from open space, it must be accessible to all community members and ideally within walking distance to people’s homes.

Neighborhood pocket parks such as Miller Ranch Open Space in Edwards, West Avon Preserve in Avon, Abrams Creek Open Space in Eagle, and East Vail Waterfall in Vail provide important opportunities for people to access nature within walking distance of their homes or workplaces.

Everyone needs and deserves access to open space to relax, unwind and recharge. These accessible natural places are growing scarcer, yet more important, as our communities continue to grow. The work of the Eagle Valley Land Trust and Eagle County Open Space help to conserve natural lands in our community. For example, EVLT and the county worked with the town of Minturn to permanently conserve the Minturn Boneyard, which provides accessible natural space and river access for Minturn residents and visitors. The renewal of the Eagle County open space fund in November was a major investment in our community’s mental health, among other things.

While open space is not the be-all end-all cure for mental health disorders, it certainly compliments other forms of treatment for those with mental health conditions. Will you join us on open space this holiday season? Check out EVLT’s website to find a public natural space near you.

Bergen Tjossem is the communications and fundraising coordinator at the Eagle Valley Land Trust. He can be reached at bergen@evlt.org. EVLT is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. For more about the Eagle Valley Land Trust and how it is conserving land and benefiting the community, visit http://www.evlt.org.