Even if high temperatures indicate otherwise, it is widely accepted that summer officially commences as soon as school is out. Ohio University and Athens are no exception, and there is plenty to do for those who enjoy the outdoors. From mental health benefits to the importance of keeping the environment clean, there is more than what may meet the eye when spending time in nature.
Jailei Maas, a rising junior double majoring in art history and studio art, grew up in an area where there isn’t a lot of green space. While there are a few parks here and there in her hometown of Canton, she doesn’t feel it’s enough compared to all of the dull concrete. Since arriving on OU’s campus, she has been able to experience what it’s like to be in a heavily green space.
“Coming to Athens… you’re surrounded by green. It’s very healing and it’s a lot easier to do outdoor activities here,” Maas said. “I really like going to Strouds (Run State Park) and swimming with friends, playing frisbee… doing things like that where you can be with a group and you can be in nature.”
Maas feels that her generation is at an odd cusp because it remembers growing up playing outside but also experienced the rise of advanced technology and social media. She believes having access to outdoor spaces is important to maintaining one’s mental health in a day and age where technology is so heavily relied on, especially for college students.
Alex Semancik, a rising senior studying journalism, has always enjoyed nature and finds it a great outlet for his mental health. Due to not having a car his freshman year, Semancik explored Athens and the OU campus because he had to walk everywhere. However, having a car expanded his options to Strouds Run State Park and Lake Hope State Park for camping, hiking and paddleboarding.
“Athens as a town has a pretty bad history of people coming in, extracting all the natural resources and leaving kind of a mess,” Semancik said. “That’s pretty much what happened with the coal industry throughout the late 1800s and 1900s (and) it’s still a problem today… I would encourage people to try to be respectful and preserve our Earth as much as possible.”
Áine West, an Athens resident and avid plant grower, finds community and relief from seasonal depression in the outdoors. Throughout the summer, West spends three to six weeks attending festivals held at campgrounds, one location being an event site called Wisteria in Meigs County, Ohio, which is approximately 24 minutes outside of Athens.
The land was previously used for strip mining but over the past 20 years or so, residents have rehabilitated the land, West explained. As a result, West and her peers always make sure to keep camping areas clean, recycle as much as possible and clean up litter they find. They also spend time at workshops about sustainability and how to repair the environment in Appalachia.
Regarding mental health, West finds healing in going on walks, even in the colder months of the year when it seems like everything appears to be dead and dark.
“It gives you a different perspective if you really look, because there (are) signs all over that things are still alive,” West said. You can still find edible mushrooms on trees, there’s still things growing (but they’re) subtle.”
West added that there is a lot of mindfulness when it comes to appreciating and spending time in nature, but it has to be taught for that mindfulness to remain.
“That’s something we need to work on as a group,” West said. “We need to educate our children about sustainability.”