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Nurture in Nature

College is well-known for being a time of high stress, pressure, and responsibility. Therefore, it’s important for students to engage in activities that reduce stress, increase their abilities to attend to obligations, and promote health and wellbeing. A growing body of research points to the associations between time spent in nature and greater cognitive functioning, mental and physical health, and wellbeing (Bratmann et al., 2019; Frumkin et al., 2017). Research is also highlighting a significant decline in humans’ connectedness to the natural world with more and more individuals spending increasing amounts of time sedentary, on electronic devices and technology, and indoors (Bratmann et al., 2019). A study funded by the National Recreation and Park Association, showed that this is truest for those currently between 9 and 24 years of age (i.e., the majority of current college students).

Spending time in nature has been shown to have physical health benefits, such as:

  • Improved quality of sleep,
  • Lowered blood pressure,
  • Increased immune system functioning, and
  • Reduced stress.
Several studies have shown that, when we connect with nature, we are reminded that we are part of something larger than ourselves. Faced with the vastness of the universe, we can feel flooded with gratitude. We become less selfish and start to think about others.
--Dr. Qing Li, 2018

Feel the Benefits

The outcomes of time spent in nature on physical health (particularly its impacts on sleep and stress) have been found to be beneficial in reducing the symptoms of mental health disorders as well. Most notably, experiences of anxiety, depression, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are shown to decrease and/or be more manageable following connection with nature (Bratmann et al., 2019). Spending time outdoors can even improve your social functioning by leading to more generosity; decreased feelings of isolation and increased feelings of connectedness; and a sense of cohesion and community. Additionally, time spent in natural environments can lead to a variety of mental health benefits including:

  • Improved mood and emotionality,
  • Increased feelings of relaxation and calm,
  • Greater imagination and creativity,
  • Advanced ability to manage life’s tasks,
  • Enhanced cognitive performance (i.e., improved attention and memory and decreased mental fatigue),
  • Expanded sense of meaning and purpose in life, and
  • Overall, greater life satisfaction.

What is Nurture in Nature?

Penn State Wellness Trails

While it may be simple for some students to know where and how to access natural spaces, and therefore to reap the benefits of doing so, others may find it more challenging. Nurture in Nature (NiN): Penn State Wellness Trails were developed with the intention of making it easier for all students and community members alike to access and intentionally connect with nature.

NiN Trails, established at various Penn State-associated-locations, are free to use and invite trail-goers to be mindful while doing so. At various points on each trail, there are invitations for trail-goers to participate in self-guided activities that aim to enhance the benefits of already being in a natural place. Trail-goers should feel free to accept these invitations as they are or adapt them to meet their own needs. They may feel called to write down their thoughts and reflections in a journal as a part of this experience.

At two of the established NiN Trail locations there are both accessible (fully ADA-compliant) and non-accessible trails. Those seeking a more accessible route should consider the Broadwalk Trail at Stone Valley/Shaver’s Creek or the Botanical Gardens Trail at the Arboretum.

 

Locations

Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Student Farm at Penn State

Penn State’s Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Student Farm (the farm) offers a unique NiN location. It is a working farm located in an open field on natural terrain. Trail-goers should expect to encounter uneven surfaces, slight hills, and farm workers or volunteers. There are six invitations scattered around the farm and trail-goers are welcome to wander to stumble upon them as they explore the farm or attempt to follow established paths on the farm to common invitation areas.

  • The farm sits on a 4-acre plot
  • Estimated Time: 15-30 minutes (depending on length of time taken to engage with each invitation)

Hours of Operation: The farm will be open to NiN trail-goers at select times between April 1 and November 1. Sign up online for a time to visit the Student Farm NiN Trails!

Directions & Parking: The Student Farm is located on Penn State’s northern campus at the intersection of Big Hollow Road and Fox Hollow Road, near OPP Renovation Services Building (also known as the old Armory). The farm is easily accessible from campus by bicycle, car or CATA bus, and is walkable as well.

  • If driving to the farm, use Fox Hollow Road, If you are driving from campus or Downtown State College, Big Hollow Road is a quick left just before the underpass for 322.
  • If biking or walking to the farm from the Penn State campus, please use Big Hollow Road to safely travel to the farm.
  • The parking lot is available for visitors to use. Parking requires a Penn State parking permit (all campus permits accepted at all times) or $1 per hour payment from 7am-5pm, Monday through Friday. Payment can be made on site through the ParkMobile app, zone 95126. It is recommended that you download the app in advance of your visit, at https://parkmobile.io/
  • Arrangements for group visits wishing to pay for the group’s parking in advance can be made with the Transportation Services office. Email parking@psu.edu with the date, times, and attendance of the visit, and they will reach out to make the arrangements.
  • Head-in parking on the grass along the front fence of the farm is available as overflow when the lot is full. Guests must either have a Penn State parking permit or pay via the ParkMobile app using the same zone.
  • Once you’ve parked, groups are asked to enter through the central farm gate next to the brown farm sign along Big Hollow Road. The entrance gate is indicated by the orange arrow on the map below.

Restrooms: There are no indoor public restrooms out at the farm. However, there is a porta-potty that can be used, located near the parking let entrance to the farm.

Report an Issue: If you come across something that does not seem right (i.e., is broken, out of place, appears unsafe, etc.) and are unable to find a farm worker or volunteer while you’re there, please complete this form  to let us know.

To learn more about other opportunities and resources available at the Dr. Keiko Miwa Student Farm, check out the NiN mailbox located at the Visitor Entrance Gate of the farm or the farm’s website.

Stone Valley Recreation Area & Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center

There are two NiN Trails at Penn State’s Stone Valley Recreational Center (SVRC), East Entrance, and Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center (SCEC). If carrying a cell phone, please note that there is poor cellular service (likely only sufficient for sending text messages) at this location.

The Boardwalk Trail connects the east entrance of SVRC with SCEC and can be accessed from either side. It is a combination of packed dirt, wooden boardwalk, and packed gravel. It is mostly flat with a slight grade on the SCEC side of the boardwalk. The “packed gravel” portion is trail surface aggregate designed with the purpose of providing an accessible surface by Penn State’s very own Center for Dirt and Gravel Roads.

  • Distance: 0.49 miles (approximately 1-mile round trip)
  • Elevation Gain: 110 ft
  • Estimated Time: 20-40 minutes (depending on length of time taken to engage with each invitation)

The Morning Oaks Trail is located at the East Entrance of SVRC. It is an all-natural, dirt trail in the nearby forest. Trail-goers using this trail should expect to encounter uneven surfaces, sticks, rocks, and hills.

  • Distance: approximately 1.2 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 208 ft
  • Estimated Time: 40-60 minutes (depending on length of time taken to engage with each invitation)

Hours of Operation: Daily from sunrise to sunset. The office at SVRC is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday – Friday. Facilities (i.e., parking lot, aviary, visitor’s center, bathrooms, etc.) at SCEC are open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Directions & Parking: SVRC and SCEC are located about 30 minutes (by vehicle) south of University Park. Trail-goers can park at SVRC’s East Entrance  or SCEC during operating hours.

Restrooms: Public restrooms at SVRC are located up the hill from the office, in line with the cabins. Two public restrooms at SCEC are accessible during operating hours located in the visitor’s center and near the aviary.

Report an Issue: If you come across something that does not seem right (i.e., is broken, out of place, appears unsafe, etc.) or that you would like to provide logistical feedback about, please let us know. Send an email  including the location, description, and any relevant photos (if available) of the issue.

For non-emergency, yet urgent issues (i.e., overflowing restroom facility or wildlife situation) that occur outside of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. please text or call Brian Sedgwick, SCEC Grounds and Facilities Coordinator, at (814) 933 - 6797.

For more general feedback on the Nurture in Nature: Penn State Wellness Trails, please complete the form linked in the Feedback section below.

 

To learn more about other opportunities and resources available at:

  • Stone Valley Recreational Center: visit their office, check out their website, or send them an email.
  • Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center: check out their visitor’s center, website, Instagram, or Facebook.

 

Arboretum at Penn State

Check back for more information on the NiN Trails at Penn State’s Arboretum coming soon!

Know Before You Go

Before hitting the trails, there are several things to consider in order to be prepared. These include the environment, how best to be respectful, what to or not to bring, and what to do upon your arrival. See below for more information on these topics and be sure to pay close attention to the logistical details for each individual location listed in the Locations section of this website prior to heading out! Consider exploring these trails with a friend or by yourself: let someone know where you’ll be and how long you expect to be gone.

Environmental Considerations

There are several environmental factors to take into consideration when in nature. Specifically, in this part of Pennsylvania you’re likely to encounter a variety of wildlife, weather, and other recreators. Here are some factors you might want to be mindful of in the environment:

  • Weather can be difficult to predict but it’s always a good idea to check the forecast before heading outside. Be sure to plan accordingly and pack the essentials. Check out the list below of What to Bring to make sure you’re adequately prepared.
  • Central Pennsylvania’s natural areas are home to squirrels, chipmunks, bunnies, black bear, snakes, and more. Be aware of how to remain safe when encountering wildlife.
  • Tick season is at its peak during spring (from March to May) and late summer/fall (mid-August to November). Check out the CDC’s Guidelines for how to best protect yourself from ticks during these times.
  • Remember you’re not the only one(s) wanting to use this space and NiN Trails are not the only use of this land. You may encounter other people recreating (i.e., mountain biking, hiking, playing frisbee golf, etc.). Good trail etiquette is important!
  • While it can enhance you experience in nature to physically connect with and touch plants, and we invite you to do so, some plants may leave you wishing you didn’t! At some of the trails there may be several poisonous plants you’ll want to make sure to be aware of beforehand so you can appropriately avoid them.
Leave No Trace

Leave only footprints, take only photos and memories. NiN Trails are in natural spaces. As we use them, we’ll all need to do our part to keep them pristine. Please follow the Leave No Trace Seven Principles while using NiN Trails!

What to Bring

To be adequately prepared for outings in nature, it’s important to consider the environment. Check the logistical details for each individual location listed in the Locations section of this website to learn of the trail conditions and other environmental factors to be sure you’ll have what you need to be comfortable and safe.

Here’s a list of things we’d suggest bringing:

  • A full bottle of water
  • Appropriate footwear and apparel for the conditions (you may get muddy or wet)
  • A journal & something to write with
  • Raincoat/umbrella
  • Insect repellant or sunscreen (depending on location, weather, and time of year)
  • Snacks (depending on how long you plan to be out)

Consider not bringing certain extra items such as electronics and other distractions. You may even choose to leave your phone at home or put it on “Do Not Disturb” for the duration of your time on the trails.

When You Arrive

When you arrive at your desired NiN destination, locate the Welcome sign for more information. Follow the prompts for how to engage at each invitation. Start by mindfully arriving in the moment. Take a few deep, slow breaths and notice how your feet connect to the surface beneath them. Orient to the environment around you by engaging all of your senses. While continuing along your chosen path, try to remain fully present and be respectful of yourself and your surroundings.

Check In With Yourself

For some, going into the woods, forests, and other secluded natural spaces is not considered relaxing, fun, or leisurely. NiN trails have been designed with those individuals in mind. If you’re the type that’s not into nature, check out the Botanical Gardens Trail at the Arboretum or the Student Farm NiN location, which are both more paths in public natural spaces than they are trails that will take you into the forest or wooded areas.

Feedback

Nurture in Nature is a pilot initiative and feedback will be integrated into any final NiN products. Any feedback that trail-goers have on the current locations, trials, signs/invitations, or initiative as a whole is welcome and greatly appreciated. If you would like to share your thoughts, please complete this feedback form.

If you have encountered issues that need to be addressed at a specific location, please use the contact information provided in that specific location's section above.

Interested in Establishing Your Own Nurture in Nature Location?

CAPS is happy to support other Penn State units/departments in establishing their very own NiN location(s)! If this is something you would be interested in, please complete the CAPS contact form and select the option "I want to learn about options for mental health outreach and programming."

Explore in this Section
Nurture in Nature
Penn State Student Affairs
Counseling & Psychological Services
Main Location

501 Student Health Center
University Park, PA 16802

Additional Locations

3rd Floor Bank of America Career Services Building
University Park, PA 16802

Allenway Building (Downtown)
315 S Allen Street
State College, PA 16801

 

Our events and programs are open to all students regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, or any other protected class. Student Affairs is committed to building a community of belonging for all.