City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

April 26, 2017

April 23rd

Benefits of Nature – Part I – The Restorative Effects of Simulated and Wild Nature

3:00 p.m. On this overcast day, the parking lot is full and the stream still runs higher from recent rains. At mile 0.3, a round a bend in the road and startle a female mallard who is stand overlooking the stream. Ten feet in front of me, she rises in a flight response that is a flurry of molted dark browns mixed with light browns and white. Her receding figure is punctuated by bright rump feathers.

Local bird observer Brian Olsen reported at Cornell University Ornithology Laboratory’s “E-bird” list (Cornell 2016) that on April 21st, he saw or heard a extensive list of native and spring migratory visitors including Turkey vultures, a Red-tailed hawk, a Cooper’s hawk, Peregrine falcon, a Scrub jay, Northern flicker, Chukar, California quail, American robin, two Black-capped chickadees, House finch, a Lesser goldfinch (Spinus psaltria), and a Broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphour platycercus)

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Ulrich also cites human health and cognitive restoration responses to nature therapy also provides indirect support for the biophilia hypothesis (Ulrich 98-108). Patients exposed to to nature while confined to a hospital accelerates their healing (id), and resting in an unstressed natural environment accelerates the brains recovery of executive and cognitive functions after they have been dulled by stress (id). This idea has given rise to an entire architectural philosophy called biophilia design, and its impact can be seen in many new urban buildings that seek to integrate wide natural lighting windows with views of natural environments into office working spaces.

Whether or not study of nature restoration supports the biophilia hypothesis, the restorative and healing quality of nature continued as an active area of research between Ulrich’s 1993 summary and the present. Ninety-percent of all time spent by humans of developed nations are spent indoors and between 1982 and 2008, there was a declining per capita trend in the amount of time that developed nation residents spend outdoors, although total recreation days continues to increase (Pergams and Zaradic, 2008). This trend raised concerns about the impact of that time on both physical health and mental health. Research conclusions about the effects of nature exposure provides scientific support for the commonplace that nature heals and restores. Capaldi at Carleton University and colleagues review benefits of exposure to nature on ones sense of well-being (Capaldi et al 2015). Those benefits can be characterized as increasing or maintaining hedonic well-being, that is a subjective emotional well-being consistent of positive feelings and satisfaction with ones life, and increasing or maintaining eudaimonic well-being, that is a general sense that one is functioning well with a sense of meaning, autonomy and vitality (id).

In 2015, McMahan of Western Oregon University and Estes of the University of Wyoming conducted a meta-analysis of thirty-two studies involving 2,356 participants concerning the effects of exposure of nature on emotional well-being (McMahan and Estes 2015). They reviewed studies that involved actually going into nature as opposed to viewing images of natural environments. They found an moderate increase in positive affect from short-term exposure to nature, found no difference between the effect of exposure between managed nature (e.g. urban parks) and natural environments, and they suggested how future research programs could be improved to provide better results. For example, research has not addressed dose-dependent exposure. Does increasing the amount of time spent in nature have an increasing affect on emotional well-being? Coon and colleagues performed a meta-analysis of 11 studies with 833 participants that compared the effect of exercising outdoors in nature verses indoors, and they found an increased sense of well-being from exercising outdoors as opposed to indoors (Coon et al 2011). Lohr summarized how studies from 1984 through 2000 have indicated that exposure to nature reduces stress, improves social interactions, speeds recovery from illness, reduces mental fatigue, increases attention and reduces violence (Lohr 2007).

Do true natural environments have the same effect as managed open spaces like parks? McMahan and Estes’s meta-analysis did not find a difference, but other researchers have reported a distinction. White at the University of Exeter and colleagues analyzed survey results of 4,255 participants in a national survey of English residents (White et al 2013). They found that respondents reported the level of restoration achieved was associated with a declining level of urbanization stretching from coastal areas, natural woodland forests, and urban parks. White et al also found that restoration was dose-dependent: higher levels of outdoor activities in a natural setting resulted in a higher level of restoration (id). Korpela and colleagues surveyed 1,273 randomly chosen urban Finnish residents for their emotional responses when using urban woodlands verses managed urban parks, and the restorative experiences of people using urban woodlands was stronger than those using urban parks (Korpela et al 2010). Korpela et al also found the the degree of worry over daily life, e.g. such as money worries, was negatively associated with utilizing the outdoors.

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Exercise outdoors has a higher restorative effect than indoor exercise. As time indoors increases and increased urbanization raises barriers to outdoor recreation, the issue of whether indoor verses outdoor recreation has the same health benefits and restoration of emotional well-being become significant. Hug at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and colleagues surveyed 319 persons at Swiss exercise centers during the winter months regarding their exercise preferences (Hug et al 2009). Persons who exercised outdoors during the winter months reported higher levels of restoration than those who exercised indoors, but Hug et al noted that this does not imply that exercising in nature is necessarily better than indoor exercise. People who exercise indoors also seek social connections and rate indoor exercise as better satisfying that equally important need. Hug suggested that the higher restoration from outdoor exercise is consistent with exercising alone. Outdoor exercise provides a release from social constraints and worries that would not be found in a social exercise setting, even where the social ethic of a club permits members to exercise alone and without social interruption from others.

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On April 23rd, 1997, a group of prominent locals who ran regularly in City Creek Canyon, remembered Tony Cannon on his passing (Salt Lake Tribune). Cannon was a descendant of the 1847 advance party. They were informally known as the “City Creek Maintenance Crew”. Tony Cannon, who ran in City Creek Canyon every day for years, dies from a stroke (Deseret News). Cannon knew “every landmark, among them Little Black, Smuggler’s Notch, Rudy’s Flat, Pleasant Valley and North Fork.” (id). On April 23rd, 1993, City officials warned about increasing coliform levels from unleashed dogs being found at the mouth of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On April 23rd, 1997, Tony Cannon, who ran in City Creek Canyon every day for years, dies from a stroke (Deseret News). Cannon knew “every landmark, among them Little Black, Smuggler’s Notch, Rudy’s Flat, Pleasant Valley and North Fork.” (id). Cannon was also known for hauling “armloads” of trash from the canyon during his runs. On April 23rd, 1916, 1916, the Salt Lake Tribune in a real estate promotional piece, noted that there was a housing construction boom occurring and that among the amenities of living in Salt Lake was the closeness of City Creek Canyon. On April 23rd, 1913, the City Commission refereed Morgan County’s request to construct a highway down City Creek Canyon to the Health Commissioner. On April 23, 1888, the Salt Lake Herald suggested that to solve the city’s water shortage, a dam could be constructed across the entrance to Pleasant Valley in City Creek Canyon.

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