Today, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was joined by Commissioner Brandon Johnson, Forest Preserves General Superintendent Arnold Randall, Dr. Kiran Joshi, Senior Medical Officer and Co-Lead of the Cook County Department of Public Health and Dr. Teresa H. Horton, associate professor of research at Northwestern University’s Department of Anthropology, at Ted Lechowicz Woods to urge people to continue to use the Forest Preserves this winter to feel renewed and rejuvenated.
“This winter will be like no other as we continue to limit the spread of COVID-19,” President Preckwinkle said. “During these tough times, the Forest Preserves of Cook County remains a refuge and a resource to get out of the house and get into nature, with all that offers—including proven benefits to mental and physical health.”
Throughout the pandemic, the Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC) remained open as an important and safe resource for physical and mental wellness. In 2020, FPCC survey volunteers have counted nearly twice as many people on the trails, and social media and website traffic has reached three times the average traffic rate.
“There are great opportunities to be active or relax at Forest Preserves locations across Cook County,” said General Superintendent Randall. “Regardless of the activity you choose, prepare by dressing for the weather and by checking our website for the latest information about what is available and any modifications this year due to COVID-19.”
For individuals seeking peaceful experiences, the Forest Preserves provides more than 350 miles of paved and unpaved trails for walks through the woods or along a river. Residents can watch for native wildlife, view stunning landscapes, or listen to an audio-guide Forest Therapy walk designed by trained nature and Forest Therapy guide Kimberly Ruffin.
"This pandemic has viciously harmed our families and communities, and there are likely to be some dark days ahead," Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson said. "As an educator and a parent, I encourage our county's residents to take advantage of all that the Forest Preserves have to offer, especially when we are feeling isolated in our homes this winter."
For residents interested in winter outings, the Preserves offers many opportunities for winter recreation, including sledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, as well as numerous ways to get in an energizing workout—from running and biking the trails to safely taking on the fitness stairs at Swallow Cliffs Woods in Palos Park or Dan Ryan Woods in Chicago.
“Physical activity is one of the best ways to keep your mind and body healthy,” said Dr. Joshi. “Some of the many benefits include, lower blood pressure and anxiety, sleeping better and higher levels of energy. When you’re visiting our forest preserves, it’s still important stay at least 6 feet away from people you don’t live with, wear a mask and wash your hands often.”
After remarks, County officials participated in a “nature-therapy” experience that included breathing exercises, mindfulness practice and a brief walk in the woods. “Forest-bathing” and similar outdoor mindfulness exercises have been shown to have significant positive effects on mental health.
“The Preserves are a fantastic resource for not just physical activities, but ones that connect to our mental health as well,” said Dr. Teresa Horton, associate professor of research at Northwestern University’s Department of Anthropology. “Our research shows that even short walks along forested paths can have a variety of benefits, including improvement of one’s mood, stress levels, as well as a reduction in blood glucose levels. I encourage everyone to take a deep breath and get out into the preserves to experience these positive effects for themselves.”
To find ideas on ways to be restful or active in the Forest Preserves, visit the Renew & Rejuvenate This Winter Blog featured on the Forest Preserves website at fpdcc.com/renew-and-rejuvenate-this-winter/. For even more ways to enjoy winter in the Preserves, visit fpdcc.com.
Video b-roll can be found at this link.