Conservation Minnesota

The Restorative Power of Nature

As many of us know and understand, nature can be a great healer and can restore a loss, heartache, or depression.  Clinical studies have shown that spending time in natural settings can be a peaceful way to maintain or improve mental health.

A 2009 study conducted at the University of Essex in England had researchers examine people who took part in two walks; one in a country park of woodlands, grasslands and lakes; and the other in an indoor shopping center.  The results:  “Improvements in self-esteem and mood were significantly greater following the green outdoor walk in comparison to the equivalent indoor walk, especially for feelings of anger, depression, and tension.”  And its been shown that a walk in a natural area adjacent to water gave people the most improvement in mood.

I mention the mood-altering powers of nature because last week I attended the funeral of a person who understood this phenomenon well.  Bill Morrissey, the former Director of State Parks for our DNR, died before his time as a result of a brain tumor.  He was an exceptional public servant who increased park acreage over his 17-year tenure leading Minnesota state parks, and then a two-year stint as head ofthe Wisconsin state park system.  Bill knew that Minnesota’s growing population needed more park acreage to enjoy the attributes of nature and pursue recreational opportunities.  Bill himself was out in nature as much as possible, running, bicycling, skiing, roller-blading, canoeing and hiking.  He had a great wit and sense of humor, and his kindness and understanding inspired those who worked under him and those that worked with him to support parks.

He didn’t have adequate time to fully enjoy the fruits of nature in his retirement, and I felt badly about that.  Feeling sad at and after his funeral, I needed nature to try and understand life’s misfortunes.

I stopped at Fort Snelling state park, with its great place in our history and wonderful acreage along the mighty Mississippi river.  Walking along the shoreline and through the woods, I thought of all the good will and commitment Bill brought to his role in caring about saving land for future generations.

It’s so fortunate that we have great public servants like Bill who know nature’s importance in our lives, and who will make every effort to make it available to citizens who need it to combat the stress and tension of their everyday lives.   Thank you, Bill, for making Minnesota a better place to live.

About John Helland

John Helland
John Helland is a history graduate of the University of Minnesota. He served as the nonpartisan legislative research analyst for the Minnesota House of Representatives after graduation. He worked extensively on environment and natural resources legislation and issues, and was the primary nonpartisan research staffer for the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance committees from 1971 to 2008.
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