Top Image: Bognor Marsh © Courtesy of Conservation Ontario
More than 300 Conservation Areas are just waiting to be explored across Ontario
Recent research shows that getting out into nature has tremendous benefits to our health, reducing stress and anxiety, improving physical fitness, and promoting healing. In 2021, more than 10 million people visited conservation areas year-round across Ontario.
Conservation areas are Ontario’s secret gems. They come in different sizes and are spotted across the province in all directions. They’re owned and operated by Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities, which are local watershed management agencies that deliver a wide variety of environmental watershed programs and services.
There are more than 300 conservation areas open to the general public and while you can find a lot of them around the Greater Toronto Area they are also located as far north as Timmins or as far east as the Québec border. You’ll find them nestled next to southwest Ontario’s farmland and they also skirt along the Great Lakes shorelines and Georgian Bay. If you’re a first-time visitor, outdoor enthusiast, or environmental educator, Conservation Ontario’s new conservation areas website can help you plan your visit or find the conservation area that meets your needs.
These natural areas play important environmental, educational, and recreational roles in Ontario. Their forests, wetlands, and other vegetation along lakes, rivers, and streams help us to adapt to climate change by cooling the air and improving water quality. They help to reduce flood risk and preserve areas of scientific significance and natural heritage, as well as provide habitat for a wide range of birds, fish, and other wildlife, which you can see on your visits.
And they can help you to improve your own physical and mental health.
Research tells us that camping in a park, strolling or cycling along a waterfront trail, snowshoeing through a forest, having a picnic next to a waterfall, or watching birds and other wildlife in natural spaces helps to lower blood pressure, recharge emotional batteries, encourage physical activity and enable us to be in a more mindful space. We push away the pressures of work and life—even for a short time—and focus on the scenery, scents, and experiences of nature. We connect with others by socializing and creating relationships.
Forest Therapy Walks
One of the popular wellness activities is a Forest Therapy Walk. Forest Therapy or ‘Shinrin-yoku’ means spending time in nature to create healing interactions. This requires mindfully moving through the landscape in ways that cultivate presence, using all your senses to actively communicate with the land and be in touch with yourself. These walks are a slow and mindful experience that can combine walking, sitting, standing, or laying down. Forest Therapy opportunities are currently being offered by the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority (Kingston area), Credit Valley Conservation (Mississauga), Kawartha Conservation (Peterborough area), Quinte Conservation (near Belleville), and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.
Another way to connect with nature is through our Step Into Nature Healthy Hikes campaign. Every year from the first Monday in May to October 31, we challenge Ontarians to take a hike or a stroll at a conservation area so they can enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of being in nature. We challenge you to unplug, disconnect, and recharge by just spending time in nature. Snap a selfie and share it on social media with the hashtags #StepIntoNature and #HealthyHikes. Tag Conservation Ontario in your post.
The trails are waiting—plan your conservation area visit and learn more about Step Into Nature Healthy Hikes at www.ontarioconservationareas.ca.
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Ontario’s 36 Conservation Authorities own and protect a total of 150,000 hectares.
This includes forests, wetlands, areas of natural and scientific interest, recreational lands, natural heritage and cultural sites, as well as, land for flood and erosion control.