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I just had an amazing time hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail located on the east coast. In the past I have hiked sections of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT) and others across the U.S. As I reflect upon my recent experience, memories of my youth return from the times I adventured into vast forests and feeling overwhelmed when sighting wildlife, hearing bubbling brooks, admiring the exotic beauty of wildflowers, and picking delicious wild berries.
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, writes of saving our children from “nature-deficit disorder” by participating with them in nature adventures that will leave them with lifelong memories as well as good habits. Trails allow children to do what they do best, learn and play and expend youthful energy. Trails can also help adults to increase that special bond with our senior parents, grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts. We older folks may have gradually become sedentary and grown distant from the nature we enjoyed as children. We can and should revisit those delights and make new memories of walking through forests, mountains, or deserts, hearing the soothing sounds of a stream, serendipitously coming upon wild animals or marveling at a mountaintop vista. Continuing a link with nature by walking a trail is a lifelong enjoyment that leads us to wonderful destinations: the possibility of increased health and longevity and enhanced relationships.
While modern medicine may offer longevity to those with sedentary lifestyles, it comes with a high cost. People tend to rationalize their sedentary lifestyle, not realizing it leads to a decreased quality of life.
Hiking trails is low-cost recreation that not only provides a link with nature, but is a form of meditation, a way to reconnect with loved ones, and the outdoors is a source of Vitamin D (necessary for strong bones). Trails force us to use our bodies for what they were designed: physical activity and the burning of calories.
Hiking trails is exercise and exercise may be one of the most important predictors of how long and how well we live our life. We owe it to our children, our family, our friends and ourselves to spend more time outdoors enjoying the healthy recreation offered by trails.
The couch potato lifestyle – TV watching, Internet surfing, video games – all are disincentives of physical activity. Walking, on the other hand, helps to increase the heart rate, build muscle tissue, and of course, to burn calories. A sedentary lifestyle promotes heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and bone disease, to name a few. In today’s world of too much to do in not enough time some choose to exercise indoors by mall walking or at commercial or home gyms. Such activity is good for our health, but it does not link us to nature or foster relationships with family and friends as we walk a trail with them.
I want to conclude with a statement of appreciation for prior American leaders who envisioned the need for trails to conserve land areas and provide us recreational opportunities. In 1978 the National Trails System Act was amended to include a trail that would traverse the backbone of America. To this day, the CDT captures the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains and has garnered world recognition for its incredible scenery, challenging landscape, rich history, and unique recreation opportunities. When finished the CDT will stretch 790 miles in New Mexico, the longest section compared to the other states it traverses to the north.
Hiking even a short section of it leaves me feeling at peace, inspired and physically and spiritually renewed; after all, it accesses some of the most wild and scenic places left in the world while conserving the environment and promoting a healthy lifestyle.
New Mexicans should be proud of this new national scenic trail and all it has to offer so please join me with celebrating National Trails Day on Saturday.
Let’s go for a hike on Trails Day.
Nathan “Nate” Cote is a State Representative for District 53.