The Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle
Photo by George Kukic

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Welcome to PRESERVE, your light-hearted guide to recreation, education and volunteerism in Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests.

This bimonthly eNewsletter is a new and, we hope, exciting way to keep you informed of events and news from around the state parks AND the state forests. We welcome your feedback and submissions.

So who are "we," anyway? We are the Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation. Founded in 1999 (yep, that means we are about to be teenagers), our mission is "to promote and support the natural and cultural resources of Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests through leadership in recreation, education, conservation and volunteerism." We do that by creating and supporting friends groups (32 of them all across the Commonwealth so far), sponsoring and promoting events and programs (educational and pure fun) and offering a means by which everyone can invest time, energy AND money into the public lands we all treasure.

Visit our website to find out more!

Of course, we hope you'll stay around for a few issues of PRESERVE but if you're absolutely certain you need to leave us, you certainly may opt out of this and all other PPFF communications. If you like what you see here, we produce a slightly off-kilter weekly eBlast (Fridays With Pam) and provide the opportunity to receive our three-time-a-year "paper" newsletter, Penn’s Stewards, via email. Manage your subscriptions with a visit to our website.

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Volunteers - Where Would Our Public Lands Be Without Them?

In all too many instances, the answer to that is "nowhere you would want to be!" In each issue of PRESERVE, we'll shine our spotlight on the people who, largely without anybody realizing it, make your visit to the parks and forests a pleasant experience.

First up? Valley Mountain Bikers of the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia Mountain Biking Association, who began meeting with Nockamixon State Park in 2008 with the idea of building a mountain biking facility. With public input, much surveying and scouting, and scrupulous adherence to sustainable trail practices, these affiliates of the International Mountain Bicycling Association built ten miles of mountain biking trails for beginners and advanced riders alike. On Sunday, October 9th, after three long years of hard work (check out the photo) a gala grand opening is planned. Keep an eye on VMB's website for more details on the christening of this terrific new trail system.

Don't you want to get out and move some rocks, too? You're in luck! National Public Lands Day is September 24th and as of this writing there are 39 NPLD events taking place in Pennsylvania on that one day alone. Put your talents to work - maybe you'll learn a new skill, make new friends and remember what it means to Be Involved!

Our calendar of events tracks volunteer opportunities sponsored by our Chapters and is a great first stop when the need to volunteer strikes. Did you know that DCNR also maintains a comprehensive calendar of state park and forest activities? It's searchable in many ways, including by category. And Volunteers is one of the categories.

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Exploring Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania's Prairie Home

At PPFF, we're committed to legacy. The people who made the park and forest system possible (and those who devote their professional and personal lives to keeping it vital) are, to us, never to be forgotten. And so it is fitting that our first Featured Park is both one of our four environmental education centers (where opportunities to learn the science of the system is key) AND a Park with a Proper Name - Jennings Environmental Education Center.

So who is this Jennings person anyway? Otto Emery (O.E.) Jennings is the EnviroHero in Question–a man with enough smarts and influence to have spearheaded protection of a place specifically for preservation of a single plant species. The Blazing Star (pictured left) was the object of his fascination, a tiny reminder of the great prairies of the Midwest now mostly lost to development and agriculture. As we write this newsletter, the season for the Blazing Star (and its other flower friends) has just passed (July to the beginning of August), so you’ll have to make a note to visit Pennsylvania's relict prairie and see this beauty in bloom.

But don't wait until then to visit Jennings! The environmental education goes on year 'round, and volunteer opportunities provide a chance for visitors to give back to this unique ecosystem. One of the most popular happens in January (coming up on January 21 in 2012) at Prairie Improvement Day when soup-fueled volunteers take to the fields to clip and remove any woody invaders from the prairie. Like many of our parks and forests, invasive species removal is an ongoing struggle; at Jennings they do their best to make it fun. Take Back the Woods next April and maybe you'll learn how to make a tasty meal out of the Stuff No One Wants.

We have a prairie! We don't have any prairie dogs though.

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It's As Simple As Stepping Outside

According to the good people at HealthBeat from Harvard Health Publications, one simple prescription for better health is to head outdoors. Yet, according to one government estimate, the average American spends 90% of his or her life indoors.

Evidence is piling up like laundry on a teenager's floor—spending time outdoors offers benefits to both physical and mental health. Here are just a few of the benefits:

  1. Your vitamin D levels go up. Exposure to sunshine enables your body to make Vitamin D, the "sunshine vitamin.” Vitamin D has now been linked to a variety of health benefits, from prevention of osteoporosis to protection against depression. While balance must be used to not overdo it in the sun (remember there are issues with skin cancers), avoiding the sun can also be damaging.
  2. Being outdoors increases exercise. Good Sir Isaac Newton said that a body in motion tends to stay in motion - and that means your body, too! Most people admit that they are more active when they spend time outdoors.
  3. Your Happy Quotient will go up. Natural light tends to elevate people's moods, and the best place for natural light? The outdoors! Research is also showing that exercising in green areas improves mental health. Don't paint your walls chartreuse - grab your hiking boots and hit the trail!
  4. Or, wait, is this #5? Gotcha! Spending time outdoors improves concentration. A 2008 study of children with ADHD found that they scored higher on a test of concentration after a walk in a park.
  5. Being outdoors may improve healing time. University of Pittsburgh researchers reported in 2005 that spinal surgery patients experienced less pain and stress and took fewer pain medications during recovery if they were exposed to natural light. Other studies have shown that patients with views of trees healed faster.

These are but a few reasons to turn off your computer (after reading our newsletter, of course) and heading outdoors. For the full article (and other interesting reading), visit the HealthBeat website.

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