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Athens provides outdoor escapes from pandemic stress

While summer for Ohio University has not commenced in traditional fashion, there are still numerous possibilities for summer fun. Athens is home to several parks and natural lands that offer bountiful areas for exploration, exercise and reflection. 

Judd Walker, the assistant director for campus recreation, oversees the Outdoor Pursuits program at OU. Through the program, Walker aims to enlighten students on the possibilities just outside their windows.

“I think a lot of students come to OU and settle into campus, and that’s it,” Walker said. “They don’t realize that there are some really incredible outdoor areas right out their back door if they’re willing to go past Court Street.”

Given the current lockdowns still in effect due to the coronavirus pandemic, many businesses have closed, including Hocking Hills State Park. Despite this closure, Walker stressed the benefit of the countless other parks near Athens that are still open to the public. 

“We’re really lucky that the parks in our areas aren’t closed,” Walker said. “You can still go out to Strouds Run State Park and go for a nice hike on the Lakeview trail. There’s several miles of hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails as well.”

One of Walker’s favorite areas for outdoor activity is the bike path, a resource that many find familiar yet is often overlooked. 

“The bike path that runs through town that connects us to Logan is a really wonderful resource that I think a lot of Athenians perhaps take for granted,” Walker said.” It takes you along rivers, through forests, through fields. It has quite an array of different views on it.”

Katherine Ann Jordan, a visiting assistant professor of parks, recreation and leisure studies, moved to Athens a year ago. She and her family have made it a goal to explore as much as possible in the surrounding areas, especially during the summer. 

Jordan has covered quite a bit of ground amid her discovery of the outdoor land. She mentioned her favorite neighboring spots that are useful to each member of her family. 

“We’ve really enjoyed Lake Hope State Park, which is a bit of a drive,” Jordan said. “But they have some really good trails and an outdoor archery range that we like to do as a family. It’s a really great place to go because you can kind of spend your whole day there because there’s the water where you can go fishing, the archery range, shorter hikes. It’s a really great place to go to just escape for a day.”

When she is not with her kids, Jordan described her personal favorite locations that allow her to face fitness challenges, while also serving as therapeutic experiences. 

“I like to run on the Thunderbunny and the Hollow Point trails in Strouds Run because it’s kind of challenging, but not too much so, so it’s still enjoyable,” Jordan said. “It’s really beautiful and, especially right now, there’s tons of flowers blooming.”

Wayne National Forest is the only national forest in Ohio, and it is a culmination of public land covering millions of acres of the Appalachian foothills. Jason A. Reed is the Athens District Ranger at the forest and capitalized on the minimal opportunities for outdoor exploration in Ohio.

“If you look at Ohio as a whole, you’ll see that public land makes up a very small percentage of our state,” Reed said. “I think the ability of anyone to get outside, enjoy nature and experience the outdoors is relatively limited.”

Due to this restricted ability, Reed underscored the countless options open to the public at Wayne National Forest. 

“The Wayne is a very large piece of public land and offers that chance to get away and experience the outdoors, whether you like birdwatching, canoeing, fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, ATV riding, or whatever the case may be,” Reed said. 

With the current state of the pandemic, many families are facing bouts of cabin fever after being quarantined in their homes for several weeks. Jordan highlighted the significance of getting outdoors during this time and how it can benefit mental health. 

“Now, it’s even more important because there are so many stressors,” Jordan said. “Your home may no longer be the place to escape due to spending so much time there, so the outdoors can be that replacement.”

While nature as a whole can be widely beneficial, Walker emphasized the individuality of the outdoor sights surrounding Athens and stressed that it offers its inhabitants a refreshing perspective of the outdoors. 

“I’ve lived quite a few places in my life, and I think what’s unique about Athens is that it’s a fairly remote college town, and because of that, it’s surrounded by a lot of nature,” Walker said. “Athens’ remoteness and its geographic location give it a unique vibe in terms of what it has to offer from the natural world.”


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