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Explore and Connect to Natural Places

Jun 03, 2015 08:51PM ● Published by Erica Shames

Bike rides on the Pine Creek Rail Trail are popular Get Outdoors PA activities. (Photo by Erica L. Shames)

Gallery: Explore and Connect to Natural Places - Summer 2015 [8 Images] Click any image to expand.

Pennsylvania offers a perfect setting to explore the outdoors, with its exquisite collection of state parks and forests, high quality streams and local natural preserves. 

Get Outdoors PA was established in 2004 by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) in PA State Parks to help people become better connected to the outdoors. Offering activities as diverse as kayaking on the Susquehanna River, backpacking the Appalachian Trail and hiking the dense Pennsylvania forests, Get Outdoors PA capitalizes on these beautiful places and engages people by getting them out into nature through outdoor activities. The program expanded statewide, beyond state parks, in 2014.

Its mission is to help Pennsylvania residents and visitors appreciate natural resources and to encourage the exploration of parks, forests and public spaces, while learning a little about stewardship of nature and healthy living.  The initiative relies on community partners such as municipal recreation departments, conservation groups and state agencies to offer quality outdoor programming.

Each year, Get Outdoors PA celebrates National Get Outdoors Day in June with an array of activities, but diverse programming occurs year around. Regional and local events are held throughout the state; the initiative continues to grow and currently has 80 community partners offering a wide variety of outdoor activities.

In the mix

One of these community partners is ClearWater Conservancy, a conservation organization committed to protecting land and water resources in central Pennsylvania.  The Conservancy, through its outreach efforts, offers monthly outdoor adventure programs to the community.    

Fifty-five-year-old Susan Braun of State College is a frequent participant on ClearWater Conservancy’s outdoor adventures.  An avid hiker, she loves the opportunity to find new trails, meet new people and learn more about her natural surroundings.

“These programs provide me with an inside track on potential places to hike on my own, since it’s often difficult to find reliable and detailed information on less known trails,” said Braun, “including where to park, directions to the trail heads and level of difficulty. “ClearWater Conservancy takes the guesswork and stress out of hiking new places.”

“I learn something new every time I go on one of their adventures,” Braun continued. “Often times I’ll take my friends out to the new places I’ve discovered through these events.”

Who’s on board?

Hiking is just one of 16 outdoor activities offered through Get Outdoors PA partners; to accommodate a wide spectrum of interests, activities range from backpacking and rock climbing to nature photography and bird watching. 

A sojourn along the Susquehanna River will likely satisfy those seeking an aquatic adventure. Susquehanna Greenway Partnership, a Get Outdoors PA Partner and advocate for the Susquehanna River Watershed, hosts an annual sojourn.

This past May, 75 participants from Pennsylvania and nearby states paddled 43 miles from Renovo to Jersey Shore and then biked an additional 20 miles along the Pine Creek Rail Trail. 

“The event attracted a variety of individuals, including those new to kayaking and those with years of experience,” explains Erin Pierce, program coordinator for the Susquehanna Greenways Partnership. “Along the way, participants learned about local geology, public access along the river, river town initiatives and efforts to connect trails along the river.”

According to Pierce, the five-day event contributed over $14,000 to the local economy through goods and services purchased by visitors to the region.

In the community

Many who are seeking outdoor adventures are simply interested in a healthier lifestyle. Studies show that spending time outdoors is not just good for the soul but good for the heart, the lungs, the mind and even the immune system. Gail Witwer, with the Partnership for Better Health in Cumberland County, recognizes these health benefits and her organization has been active regionally to get residents outdoors and moving. 

The partnership collaborates with the Cumberland County Recreation and Parks Department to develop and publish a guide entitled Simply Moving: A Guide to Public Parks, Trails & Recreational Facilities, which makes individuals aware of local park and recreational resources.                   

In the spring each year, the partnership, a Get Outdoors PA community partner, also co-hosts a free six-week walking series with the Carlisle Recreation & Park Department. The walks feature trails from the Simply Moving guide.

“A lot of times,” explains Witwer, “the people who attend the walking series like the socialization of walking with others and are uneasy about going out in remote areas on their own. They like the group aspect and plus they get introduced to new trails and to new people.”

The walks strive to accommodate the needs of everyone. Participants range from young families with infants to adults in their 90s; when the trail walks are too easy, stretching and strength training exercises may be added to supplement health benefits.

“Some folks are following their doctor’s recommendations to become active,” Witwer adds. “The walks are designed to meet participants’ comfort level as well as provide a much needed fitness component.”

Visit GetOutdoorsPA.org to find guided outdoor activities in your community. And visit SusquehannaLife.comWebExtras to find a list of spring activities.

by Nicole Faraguna, director of outreach & education for the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association, a flagship partner of Get Outdoors PA. 

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