It was Sunday afternoon, the sun was shining, and I had a decision to make. I had about three hours of daylight before the winter sun set – where did I want to spend it? The local state parks were too far, and the wind was blowing like crazy along the beaches. Luckily there was a small but beautiful option nearby: Oak Tree Nature Park.
About ten minutes from my house, Oak Tree Nature Park was first opened to the public in the beginning of the 21st century, and encompasses 25 acres with a mile-long loop trail. Big it is not, but it still serves as a green space for joggers, wildlife viewers, and dog-walkers, while preserving important Florida habitat.
As I walked, I arched my neck to take in the tall forms of the pines in the overstory, while reaching out and touching the leaves of the shorter saw palmettos, wax myrtle, and sparkleberry. Squirrels chased each other in the dry leaves on the forest floor, and Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays called back and forth. Because the path was short I made three loops, striding around for more than an hour.
The importance of green space in urban areas is well documented. People who can spend time in natural environments have lower levels of stress, kids with ADHD have an easier time concentrating, and people may even become kinder. One study found that, “when it comes to the level of nature and green space in our immediate surroundings, we can become happier in a long-term, durable way. If you move next to a park, the benefit for your mental health isn’t a novelty that goes away, but something that sticks around for years.”