Forest bathing. No, we’re not talking about stripping down to your birthday suit and running through the woods. Forest bathing is simply the immersion of one’s five senses in the natural environment while on a jaunt through the woods.
The practice of forest bathing originated in Japan, where it is known as “shinrin-yoku”. In a society known for its work ethic, technology and urban infrastructure, you might not think unplugging and taking a walk through the woods would be a priority in Japan; but researchers are now discovering promising evidence of a secret known to happy hippies for some time now: immersion in nature has positive impacts on our brains and bodies. Increasing productivity, decreasing stress levels and encouraging overall happiness in participants are just some of the tangible effects of short-term forest bathing practices. But as with other medicines, dosage matters. The higher the dosage, or the more time spent outside in nature, the greater the effect. Additionally, the more wild and natural the environment, the better.
Luckily for us Kentuckians we have lots of forest bathing opportunities. Here at The Parklands of Floyds Fork there are a plethora of options to choose from. Bring a book and get ready for an outdoor adventure that hits the reset button in your brain.
While hiking through the park, listen for the variety of calls from our avian friends, whether it be the “chirp” of the Red-winged Blackbird in our riparian habitats, or the “churee” of the Kentucky Warbler hiding in the flower patches and grasslands. Stop and feel the velvety trunk of the Staghorn Sumac that resembles the antlers of young bucks. Maybe taste a sweet mulberry from one of the many Mulberry trees dotting the creek line, hearing the water’s riffles in the distance. Find a good shady spot under a big bark-shedding sycamore, and trace its maze-like roots exposed by the constant erosion of soil along Floyds Fork.
All of those experiences are just a few examples of what you’ll encounter along your way to and through the Sycamore Trail from the Marshall Sprayground in Beckley Creek Park. If you are someone who likes a few less anthrophonic sounds during your forest bathing, make your way further south.
In Turkey Run Park, you’ll discover your reflection in the still ponds along your trek of the paved path of Bullfrog Crossing. Close your eyes and smell the cedar grove all around. Try to guess where the turtles (who bob their timid heads, using algae as camouflage) may show themselves next. Take in the local bird choir harmonizing in their wetlands habitat as you savor your favorite herbal tea. And if inner peace somehow still evades you, move even further south to Karst Climb in Broad Run!
Karst Climb is a short hike that packs a punch and is guaranteed to get your endorphins pumping. Starting at the lowest elevation point, it’s a hike straight up toward Big Vista Overlook, where you’ll pass an old chimney revealing past uses of the land. Travel a bit further and your ears might catch a waterfall cascading along the limestone bed. You may be tempted to let the soothing white noise lull you into a slumber, atop a soft patch of grass neighboring a grove of wildflowers. Further still up the climb, dip your hand in the streams to cool your head as you venture higher and higher, eventually reaching the trail head emerging near the open area if Highland Crossing. Now that your legs feel the burn, sit and relax at the vista, survey the farmlands from your birds’ eye view. Inhale a few deep breaths and loosen into becoming a part of the vista itself.
Now that’s a forest bath! Hankering yet for one of your own? Test these awareness-building nature activities for yourself and let us know how it goes! Want to learn more about your brain on nature? If so, pick up a copy of The Nature Fix by Florence Williams. Looking forward to seeing lots of fellow forest bathers out on the trails!
About the author:
Warren Maddox is an Interpretive Ranger at The Parklands of Floyds Fork. A certified wilderness first responder and avid outdoorsmen, he spends much of his time recreating in the backcountry. A natural born Louisvillian, Warren has hiked thousands of miles up and down the east coast along the Appalachian Trail. He developed a love for sport climbing in the backwoods of Kentucky and the Arizona Sky Island wilderness. Warren leads Member hikes and bikes and is one of the educators here at the park. You can find him roaming singletrack trails throughout The Parklands.