One Step (Outside) to a Happier, Healthier You!

Kane-Ritsch_KelseyKelsey Kane-Ritsch ’16 grew up in Los Angeles before moving to Princeton to pursue a B.A. in Anthropology. As her major suggests, Kelsey loves exploring new cultures and devoted her last three summers to pursuing this passion. She has worked on the development and teaching of environmental education curriculum in Kenya, maintenance of Monet’s Garden in Giverny, France, and an environmental anthropology research project in New Caledonia which became the core of her senior thesis. In this blog post, she describes her work with D&R Greenway Land Trust.

Spending time in nature can reduce anxiety and depression, decrease stress, increase energy and immunity, and lower your risk of heart attacks and cancer. So why does the average American spends less than 5% of their day outdoors?  D&R Greenway Land Trust works to change this by preserving and protecting a permanent network of natural open space and providing the public with access to these areas, encouraging active lifestyles and a greater appreciating of the natural world.

Protected open spaces are beneficial to everyone, whether they know it or not.  My job as the Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator at D&R Greenway, is to make sure they know it. The first step in doing so is to understand our audience.

Much of D&R Greenway’s audience is already environmentally conscious and responds well to classic preservation arguments: Undeveloped land with more trees means cleaner air; healthy riparian zones mean cleaner water; biodiversity preservation means diverse plant and animal life as well as the products they provide. Much of my work has incorporated these messages through audio tours of our preserves, press events, and educational programming.

But my work with D&R Greenway has also taught me the importance of reaching a broader audience and building a new constituency.  Through partnerships with the YWCA’s Breast Cancer Resource Center and the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton, I am working to develop Healing Trails based on the concept of the healing power of nature. Scientific evidence shows positive physiological and psychological effects from spending time in nature.  Even those outside of the realm of self-identified “environmentalists” can universally appreciate these positive health effects, so I work to spread this message and encourage the public to get outside and enjoy our preserves for their own benefit.

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Kelsey (right) does a lot of work on the walking and river trails in the Abbott Marshlands. She’s shown here on a canoeing trip.

We also work to attract a diverse audience through the power of art.  Our office hosts a series of environmental art exhibits throughout the year that depicts the natural wonders that New Jersey has to offer.  Although attendees may come for the art, I work with signage, brochures, and in-person conversations to ensure that they come back for the nature.

The arguments for preserving land go on – landowners may respond positively to an economic argument, others may appreciate the historical and cultural significance of a preserved site, while still others may prioritize green space as an environmental justice issue.  Through this Fellowship, I’ve learned to greatly enjoy the complex strategy and careful nuance required to communicate successfully with a diverse audience. I know that the skills I have gained as Outreach Coordinator will serve me well as I continue to pursue a career in environmental communications.

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