A Cure for What Ails You: Engage with Nature and Creativity During the Second Annual Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Outdoor Fest

Braelyn Dixon, 4.5 years old, takes photographs of native plant flowers at Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge for consideration in the children’s division of the second annual Outdoor Fest photography contest. The Fest—a week of action-packed days filled with family-friendly, mostly free outdoor adventures and hands-on activities— is set for Saturday, March 11th through Saturday, March 18th. Photo by Jeremy Dixon.

For most, nature’s capacity to instill awe goes without saying. Sea turtles nesting, dolphins frolicking, birds wading and migrating— wildlife encounters like these can leave us inspired and renewed. But a growing body of research is beginning to show that contact with nature has many proven physical, mental, and emotional benefits too, with “Nature Therapy” sometimes even prescribed as a supplemental Rx treatment and approach to well-being.

Here in the Keys, with over 400,000 acres of land and shallow waters that make up the subtropical Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges, there are many opportunities to tap into nature’s therapeutic bounty. Saturday, March 11th through Saturday, March 18th the Refuge Complex and their Friends group FAVOR (Friends And Volunteers Of Refuges) hosts the second annual Outdoor Fest with a full week of family-friendly, mostly free outdoor adventures and hands-on activities—events that will not only boost your mood, but enhance your connection to your creativity while you explore that natural world around you.

“Our lives are so busy and hectic now-a-days,” says FKNWRC Deputy Project Leader Christine Ogura. “Nature transports me to another place that slows me down and gives me time to take a breath, reflect and appreciate. Art-making does the same thing. One inspires the other.”

Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge Ranger Kristie Killam captures a “Quiet Morning” with this image of the Long Beach portion of National Key Deer Refuge. Killam is part of the team that will be on hand to help participants enjoy the upcoming Outdoor Fest. Photo by Kristie Killam.

Ogura will lead a “Fun with Wildlife Origami” workshop during the Outdoor Fest on Thursday, March 16 from 10:00am-11:30am at the National Key Deer Refuge visitor center. The workshop is one of several “Nature Therapy” type of workshops for children and adults offered that week, in addition to several other events, activities, lectures, and field trips. Other “Nature Therapy” type workshops include: Intro to Nature Sketchbook Journaling on Wednesday, March 15 from 9:00am-11:00am, a Sunrise Photography Walk on Wednesday, March 15 from 6:30am-8:30am, a Kids Photography Workshop on Thursday, March 16 from 1:00pm-2:30pm and a Photography Contest with a special pop-up photography exhibit and reception at the National Key Deer Refuge visitor center on Wednesday, March 15.

All of the above workshops are free and open to everyone regardless of artistic abilities, and advanced registration is required, either online or at the Visitor Center.

“No experience is needed,” says Loretta Gallant, who will lead the Intro to Nature Sketchbook Journaling workshop. “Just a desire to discover the joy of expressing yourself through art in nature.”

From east to west, Crocodile Lake NWR, National Key Deer Refuge, Great White Heron NWR and Key West NWR are home to some of the world’s most endangered habitats, plants, and wildlife species, the perfect place to engage in a little “Nature Therapy.” Kayaking the shallow waters and calm seas is one of many ways to enjoy them. Photo by Mary Lou Dickson.

Gallant looks forward to sharing what she says is “a new way to deepen the connection to the natural world” with others. Her offering is a perfect example of how to tap into Nature Therapy, which is based on the idea that people are connected to and impacted by the natural environment. Add to that the benefits of engaging in one’s creativity and you have an Rx for happiness, sure to help cure what ails you.

“It slows you down, allowing you to be in the moment,” says Gallant. “In a chaotic world, nature brings order and purpose, reminding you of what is real and important. You remember who you are.”

The Outdoor Fest is brought to you in part by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. For more information about the refuges, FAVOR, and the list of events, visit www.favorfloridakeys.org/outdoor-fest or contact Kristie Killam at 305.304.9625 or email Nancy or Jan at [email protected].

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