Program Spotlight: Healthy, Active, and Green
A Conversation with Mike Cornell, Naturalist Educator
What is environmental education? It’s not just for kids, and it doesn’t have to happen in a classroom! At Frick Environmental Center, we believe in the importance of environmental education for individuals of all ages and backgrounds. For adults 50+, environmental education can be as simple as getting healthy, active, and green out in nature—and at FEC, there are plenty of opportunities to do so while connecting to like-minded members of the community. Mike Cornell, naturalist educator, has been instrumental in the development and implementation of Healthy, Active, and Green programming. As part of their work with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Mike partners with community organizations across Pittsburgh with the goal of connecting older adults with nature, along the trails of Frick Park and beyond.
Programs and events that fall under the umbrella of Healthy, Active, and Green include regularly scheduled programs such as 1st and 3rd Friday hikes, Sunday yoga, and garden volunteering, as well as a variety of special programs. Examples of special programs include Intro to Watercolor, The Story of Pittsburgh Forests, and Discovering Nature Through Journaling. While all members of the Pittsburgh community are encouraged to get involved with Healthy, Active, and Green programming, Mike has been actively working to increase engagement with the park among Pittsburgh-area immigrant and refugee populations, as well as adults with developmental disabilities.
While community engagement with Healthy, Active, and Green has been “a bit of a slow build,” attendance at hikes has been steady. “People seem pretty happy to have a guide who will lead them on the trails, and move at their pace,” says Mike. They describe the feedback from the community as being positive, citing in particular one regular attendee who comes in from Monroeville to hike because she likes it so much better than the gym. Positive effects of Healthy, Active, and Green are long-lasting; Mike adds that they “run into people from my journaling class 4 years ago who are still keeping a nature journal.”
Benefits to participation in Healthy, Active, and Green programming include improved physical, social, mental, and emotional health, “You get outside with other people, moving around and making friends,” says Mike, and “research shows that as little as 30 minutes per week out in nature can have a beneficial effect on blood pressure, circulatory health, cognition, cortisol levels, and pretty much everything. Plus, you get to know the park better, and get connected to more people and opportunities.”
Worried about keeping up? Don’t be! The programs are “judgment-free, and paced to match the group,” explains Mike. “Sometimes we go faster, and sometimes slower, all dependent on who’s with us. No one grumbles if we go a little slower. The idea is just to get outside and have a good time.”
If you’re looking to get involved with Healthy, Active, and Green but aren’t sure how, Mike recommends attending one of the 1st Friday hikes for as a place to start, since they’re designed to be relaxing, while 3rd Friday hikes are meant “to get your blood pumping a little bit.”
The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy is connected to numerous local organizations doing work similar to Healthy, Active, and Green, including Lively Pittsburgh and Venture Outdoors. Several city-run healthy active living centers also work with older adults.