As millions of Americans anxiously isolate themselves in their homes, many have found the outdoors as a place to safely spend time, to get fresh air, and to break the monotony of the day (Curwood, 2020). Many people have turned to neighborhoods, state parks and hiking trails to get fresh air, exercise or to just enjoy the nice weather while social distancing (Childs, 2020). Although many Americans have used the outdoors to cope with the pandemic, various national parks, state parks, and recreational areas have been closed as a means of slowing the spread (Beresini, 2020). Many states with stay at home orders are determining the careful balance of allowing recreational use of outdoor space without encouraging transmission of Coronavirus among patrons (Wiens, O’Keeffe, Ma, 2020).

The urge to spend time outdoors has been a topic of research for many years. Popularized by the psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, in the 1960s and later published as a hypothesis by the biologist E. O. Wilson, biophilia is a commonly used term to describe the tendency of humans to be associated with nature (Rogers, 2019). Biophilia is also known as a love for life, and argues that people are drawn to living environments rather than inanimate spaces (Wilson, 1984).

Time outdoors, proves to be an outlet at this time to relieve the onset of fear and pain caused by this pandemic (Taylor, Young, 2020).

Stay at home orders can make us feel helpless and alone, despite the digital connections of Zoom or Facetime. Spending time outdoors has proven to increase the ability to concentrate, and lower levels of stress, sadness and anxiety (More, Payne, 1978 & Michael, Hull, 1995). Outdoor spaces ultimately serve as a counterweight to the mental challenges we face while staying at home.

This cluster of three projects explores the power of the outdoors during the pandemic. The first project, “A Controversial Journey: The Impact of COVID-19 on Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers” explores the stories and experiences of 2020 AT hikers who had to alter their plans due to the pandemic. The second project, “Mindfulness Amidst the Madness: Finding Nature from Home” is an explorative study that investigates the way in which we experience nature when forced to practice safe social distancing from our homes. The third project, “A Look into the Role Nature Plays on Daily Life During COVID-19”, explores the impact the outdoors has on people and how nature makes it easier to cope during the pandemic.

A Controversial Journey: The Impact of COVID-19 on Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers

Emma Bennett

This interactive project examines the impact COVID-19 has had on the journeys of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers this year. Through a series of semi-structured interviews, hikers reflect on their connection with hiking as well as the repercussions of the pandemic. What purpose does hiking serve in the lives of thru-hikers? What sacrifices did hikers have to make in order to hike the AT? What were the deciding factors when choosing to continue or stop? How have hikers’ feelings on COVID-19 evolved? With the coronavirus as a blockade on the trail, thru-hikers will not be able to experience the journey they once dreamed of. 

Mindfulness Amidst the Madness: Finding Nature from Home

Hannah Schulz

This explorative study investigates the way in which we interact with nature when forced to practice safe social distancing from our homes. Through a five day Program, participants reflect on the challenges faced, and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic through activities in nature. How might the natural cycles of the rising and falling of the sun frame our understanding of the pandemic? How can the sounds of nature pull us closer to finding peace during chaos? These activities help investigate the role that the outdoors plays in keeping us grounded during an uncertain time.

Peace, Mindfulness, and the Outdoors: Nature as a Refuge from the Stressors of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Mia DiBattista

This project investigated the mental benefits and personal experiences while being around plants, animals, and the natural landscape. People can experience natural plants and landscapes by being in their yards, simply walking around their neighborhoods, or being in the woods. All these experiences, and more, are referred to as nature through this project. Using this definition of nature, I sought to identify the benefits and expressions within nature using phone interviews, email chains, and photo submissions.

Beresini, E. (2020, March 27). Are the Great Outdoors Off-Limits During a Pandemic? Retrieved April 17, 2020, from                            https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/are-the-outdoors-off-limits-coronavirus

Childs, C. (2020, March 24). During the pandemic, how do you ethically get outside? Retrieved April 29, 2020, from                              https://www.hcn.org/issues/52.5/covid19-as-covid19-spreads-how-do-you-ethically-get-outdoors

Curwood, S. (2020, April 8). Connecting with nature in the time of COVID-19. Retrieved from                                                                  https://www.pri.org/stories/2020-04-08/connecting-nature-time-covid-19

Hull, R., & Michael, S. E. (1995). Nature‐based Recreation, mood change, and stress restoration. Leisure Sciences, 17(1), 1–14. doi:        10.1080/01490409509513239

Rogers, K. (2019, June 25). Biophilia Hypothesis. Retrieved April 8, 2020, from                                                                                            https://www.britannica.com/science/biophilia-hypothesis

Taylor, L., & Young, A. (2020, March 30). People look to outdoor activities to cope with coronavirus pandemic. ABC 13 News.                Retrieved from https://wset.com/news/coronavirus/people-look-to-outdoor-activities-to-cope-with-coronavirus-pandemic

Thomas A. More & Brian R. Payne (1978) Affective Responses to Natural Areas Near Cities,Journal of Leisure Research, 10:1, 7-12,        DOI: 10.1080/00222216.1978.11969329

Wiens, M., O’Keeffe, J., & Ma, L. (2020, April 17). COVID-19 and outdoor safety: Considerations for use of outdoor recreational            spaces. Retrieved from https://ncceh.ca/documents/guide/covid-19-and-outdoor-safety-considerations-use-outdoor-                    recreational-spaces 

Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.