Improving Health by Going Back to Nature

group picImproving Health by Going Back to Nature

By Kelleen Lanagan

Kelleen is a 2013 Penn State graduate. She is currently finishing up her Masters of Education.

The average American child spends around seven hours a day interacting with a screen and just four to seven minutes outside exploring the possibilities of the natural world. This can lead to restlessness and even stifled creativity. Sitting in front of screens for hours a day, and having a jam-packed schedule contributes to the feeling of being overwhelmed and depressed. In recent years, the United States has seen an alarming increase in the number of youth prescriptions for ADHD medication and antidepressants. With so many diseases being the result of stress and inactivity, one way to combat many of the health problems today is simply to get up, and get outside.

Studies continue to find that being outside and in nature is linked to many mental, physical, and social heath benefits in both adults and children. Getting outside and enjoying nature is a refreshing activity that people can do to recharge. It is why some go for hikes to clear their heads, and it is why many people flock to national parks over vacations. People not only desire nature when given a choice between natural and urban landscapes, we actually need it.

What can nature do for physical health?

Being outdoors and engaging often with nature is a way to become active. Outdoor activity has many positive health effects. Exercise is an essential component in battling obesity, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the risk of other weight-related health concerns. It can also improve physical strength by building and training muscle, and by being outside, you are absorbing the necessary sunlight to metabolize vitamin D—a vitamin that is crucial in building strong bones. Being active outside releases endorphins, a hormone in the human body that makes you feel good.

Certain chemicals released by plants as a protection against insects can boost our immune systems when we breath them. Trees and plants act as a natural air filter, removing carbon dioxide and other harmful compounds from the air. Air pollution is a particular problem in urban areas, and this pollution can cause or contribute to respiratory issues like asthma. Living closer to a forest, or being around trees more often can not only alleviate the symptoms of asthma, it can increase our quality of health in general.

Aside from trees and sunlight, there are other aspects of nature that can improve health. Gardening can boost your immune system because rich soil contains microbes—tiny microscopic organisms. Some of these microbes, like Mycobacterium vaccae, have been found to have a similar effect on the human brain as antidepressant medications. Gardening decreases the level of cortisol in your brain, which is a hormone that is involved in responding to stress. The Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture reported that adolescents engaging in a therapeutic gardening program noticed that their self-esteem grew, and they became better had handling emotional and behavioral stressors. Many of the participants expressed their desire to continue gardening after the program ended.

How can nature help our mental and social health?

Exploring nature is a great way to relieve stress. Even just going for a walk around a park can have a calming effect on the mind. Our natural curiosity as humans draws us to the outdoors, and this exploration is key to fostering a healthy imagination. Imagination can increase creativity and positive thinking, both of which are important for keeping an active and healthy mind.

There is something about the “great outdoors” that continues to inspire creativity in everyone from painters and writers, to scientists and engineers. Plants have a calming effect on our minds that can has been found to increase the speed and accuracy with which we do tasks. Having plants in the office or classroom can increase memory retention and task performance. Schools that have adopted environmental education programs have observed an increase in testing scores, while workplaces that have gardens for employees to visit during breaks see an increase in productivity.

As more people become involved with nature programs and outdoor activities, getting outside could increase the time we spend socializing with others. When many people are involved with nature, it also becomes an opportunity to enhance social connections and forge lasting friendships.

What can you do?

If you have ever felt overwhelmed by work, studies, or the bustle of a tight schedule, it may seem counterintuitive, but take a break. Go explore. Take time for yourself and remind yourself what it means to be outside connecting with nature and the people in it. One way to do this is by checking out local parks and environmental organizations for events

Events are a wonderful way to get that first foot out the door and to become part of a community of people who love being outside. The key to a happier and healthier life could in fact be your own back yard. Getting out into nature not only improves health and relationships with the community, it allows us to reconnect with a part of our very own nature.

Check out events at Clearwater Conservancy:


(2007, April 2) Getting dirty may lift your mood. University of Bristol.

(2013, November 5) Improving Health and Wellness through Access to Nature.

(2016) How Does Nature Impact Our Wellbeing?

Hamblin, J. (2014, July 29) The Health Benefit of Trees. The Atlantic.

Husted, K. (2012, February 22) Can Gardening Help Troubled Minds Heal?

Kingsley, J. Y., Townsend, M., & Henderson‐Wilson, C. (2009). Cultivating health and wellbeing: members’ perceptions of the health benefits of a Port Melbourne community garden. Leisure Studies, 28(2), 207-219.

Maller, C., Townsend, M., Pryor, A., Brown, P., & St Leger, L. (2006). Healthy nature healthy people:‘contact with nature’as an upstream health promotion intervention for populations. Health promotion international, 21(1), 45-54.

Matthews, D. M., & Jenks, S. M. (2013). Ingestion of Mycobacterium vaccae decreases anxiety-related behavior and improves learning in mice. Behavioural processes, 96, 27-35.

National Wildlife Federation. There’s a reason they call it the great outdoors.

Thank You Art & Chocolate Winter Gala Artists, Sponsors, and Guests

PrintSee the CDT Thank You Ad

See the Art & Chocolate Winter Gala Photo Album Here

Thanks to everyone who joined us at the Art & Chocolate Winter Gala on February 10! The evening was a huge success thanks to our fun-loving guests, incredible artists, delicious dessert donors, dedicated volunteers, and generous sponsors who joined us to support ClearWater’s vision of working together for people and place to nurture a healthy environment and thriving communities right here in the heart of Pennsylvania!


Ramada State College

Centre Daily Times

Kissinger Bigatel & Brower REALTORS®

Nittany Entertainment


PennTerra Engineering, Inc.

Northwest Savings Bank

Nestlerode & Loy Investment Advisors

University Wine Company

Otto’s Pub and Brewery

Recent Press Releases

January 9, 2017

18 Acres added to Scotia Barrens (enews update version)

December 23, 2016

Slab Cabin Run gets funding boost

December 22, 2016

ClearWater Conservancy meets 1st fundraising deadline 

December 16, 2016

Municipalities should contribute to Slab Cabin Run Initiative

December 14, 2016

Patton Township supervisors adopt budget with no tax increase

December 1, 2016

College Township residents express support for ClearWater Initiative, council still has questions

November 22, 2016

Board of Supervisors discusses ClearWater funding

October 27, 2016

ClearWater embarks on new project to conserve Meyer Dairy property, Everhart Farm

Earth Minutes: Links and Resources

Thanks for listening to our Earth Minutes on 98.7 The FREQ!

Home Energy Audit:

Information about hiring a professional or doing a DIY home energy audit

Invasive vs. Native Plants:

 List of native plant providers

Xerces Society: Plant lists and pollinator protection information

Native plant replacements for your invasives

Build Your Own Rain Barrel:


Please email Andrea for more information: 

Reduce Holiday Waste:

10 tips for going Zero Waste over the holidays

Spring Creek Watershed:

 Spring Creek Watershed Association

Get Outside in Cold Weather:

Spring Creek Canyon Trail

Musser Gap Trail

Barrens to Bald Eagle Wildlife Corridor

The Barrens to Bald Eagle Wildlife Corridor is one of the last remaining natural connections allowing free passage of wildlife between State Game Lands 176 and Bald Eagle Mountain. The corridor is forever protected through a joint public/private partnership between ClearWater Conservancy, Halfmoon Township Open Space Preservation Program, County Planning and Community Development Office, and private donors. The Scotia Barrens and Bald Eagle Mountain are both designated “Important Bird Areas” and “Important Mammal Areas” because they provide large, unique, or critical habitat for many bird and mammal species. Residential development threatens to isolate these two natural land masses from each other as well as the wildlife populations they support. The wildlife corridor provides a natural connection between two critical habitats, forever ensuring safe passage.

Directions to Bald Eagle Wildlife Corridor: From State College: Take US 322 West to SR 550 (Buffalo Run Road) Turn left onto SR 550 Travel 2.9 miles to Saddle Ridge Road on the left Travel Saddle Ridge Road taking first right onto Harness Downs Road Follow Harness Downs Road to its end and the parking area. The hiking trail begins in the extreme left-hand corner of the parking lot. Please note: speed limit is 25 mph on Saddle Ridge and Harness Downs Roads.’ Please be a thoughtful visitor and strictly obey the speed limit.

From Stormstown: Travel SR 550 through Stormstown, past church on Right just past Stormstown Take first Right past church onto Saddle Ridge Rd. (do not take farm lane) Travel Saddle Ridge Rd. taking first Right onto Harness Downs Rd. Follow Harness Downs Rd. to its end and the parking area. The hiking trail begins in the extreme left-hand corner of the parking lot. Please note: speed limit is 25 mph on Saddle Ridge and Harness Downs Roads! Please be a thoughtful visitor and strictly obey the speed limit.




ClearWater awarded $100,000 Centre Inspires Grant by Centre Foundation


At its annual dinner on Tuesday, Centre Foundation awarded its Centre Inspires $100,000 grant to ClearWater Conservancy’s Centred Outdoors project.

Centred Outdoors is designed to help engage people in the natural world through guided outings at various Centre County destinations, according to a press release from ClearWater Conservancy.

“This year, the Centre Inspires granting cycle was focused on community engagement through the environment around us,” Molly Kunkel, Centre Foundation’s executive director, said in a press release from the foundation. “This program encourages collaboration among different sectors in Centre County in an effort to transform an element of our area.”

The effort is in collaboration with the Mount Nittany Health System, Penn State’s Sustainability Institute, Penns Valley Conservation Association, Mount Nittany Conservancy and Millbrook Marsh Nature Center.

The initiative will feature the launch of summer 2017 Centred Outdoors Challenge, according to the release from ClearWater. The family-friendly fitness challenge will promote exploration at eight Centre County destinations, including Mount Nittany, The Arboretum at Penn State, Spring Creek Canyon Trail, Millbrook Marsh, the Barrens to Bald Eagle Wildlife Corridor/Scotia Gamelands, Black Moshannon and Bald Eagle State Park and the Penns Creek Canyon Corridor and Talleyrand Park.

ClearWater will also partner with Mount Nittany Health System and Centre Moves to launch the Prescription ParRx program, where physicians will write prescriptions for time outdoors at the eight destinations, according to ClearWater’s release.

According to ClearWater’s release, the Penn State Sustainable Communities Collaborative, Mount Nittany Conservancy, Penns Valley Conservation Association and Millbrook Marsh Nature Center will help lead guided outings each weekend during the summer.

“We know that spending time outside is good for your mind, body and soul. Getting outdoors is also good for conservation, helping build a love of place and a population that desires to protect it. We’re excited to help Centre County residents explore the dynamic environment in their very own backyard,” according to ClearWater’s release.

Read more here:

ClearWater Embarks on Project to Conserve Meyer Dairy Property and Everhart Farm


STATE COLLEGE, PA-ClearWater Conservancy, a nationally-accredited land trust organization serving Centre and surrounding counties, announces today that the organization will be undergoing a year-long, $2.75 million fundraising effort to permanently and proactively conserve 300 acres of agricultural land owned by the Meyer and Everhart families of State College in the interest of source water protection, restoring Slab Cabin Run, and preserving iconic farmland that produces dairy goods for the Meyer Dairy Store.

The 300 acres of property the organization aims to conserve is situated in College and Harris Townships, immediately outside of the regional growth boundary.  A portion of the land is visible from University Drive Extension off South Atherton Street near Foxdale Village and the State College Friends School.  The land lies in a vital portion of the Spring Creek Watershed, within the Source Water Protection Area for the Harter-Thomas wells which supply the majority of the drinking water to Centre Region residents.

“Our community and our environment will mutually benefit from this effort, protecting our drinking water supply, restoring the degraded trout stream that is Slab Cabin Run and permanently preserving scenic farmland as a reminder of the modest, hard-working values that make up our rich agricultural history.” stated Andy Warner, President of ClearWater Conservancy’s Board.

ClearWater Conservancy has been working on efforts to protect drinking water supplies in the region for the last decade. This project, known as the Slab Cabin Run Initiative, continues the Conservancy’s  scientific and strategic approach to watershed conservation and proactive source water protection. The organization had recent success with conserving 705-acres of land through the Musser Gap Conservation Area.

The $2.75 million project is the largest financial undertaking in ClearWater’s 35 year history.  The organization will seek 50% support from local municipal partners and 50% from business owners and private donors to reach its funding goal by September 30, 2017.  Upon completion of the project, land conservation of 300 acres will result in Meyer Dairy Partnership owning both farms and ClearWater Conservancy holding perpetual conservation easements on both farms.   The conservation easement is a legally binding encumbrance on the property deed, ensuring protection of the farmland and stream corridor forever.

Joe Meyer, the 93 year-old owner of Meyer Dairy explained his and his son Denny’s enthusiasm for the project, stating, “Over the years, many people have come to us with interest in our land.  We think a lot of people will be satisfied with this decision.”

“ClearWater Conservancy is honored that the Meyer and Everhart families see the benefit to preserving their property for future generations and have agreed to partner with us in order to conserve, restore, and protect this iconic Central Pennsylvania farmland, ” said Deborah Nardone, executive director of ClearWater Conservancy.

The organization will formally announce the Slab Cabin Run Initiative this evening during their Annual Member Meeting.  For more information about the Slab Cabin Run Initiative and for information regarding donations, visit or contact ClearWater Conservancy directly at

Read the Press Release from Centre Daily Times

Remembering Don Hamer

Don Hamer1

ClearWater Conservancy lost a great friend and an inspiring leader when Don Hamer died on July 12, 2016, at the age of 90.

The founder and chairman of State of the Art, Inc., the State College company known internationally for manufacturing highly reliable microelectronic components, Don served for 20 years on the ClearWater Conservancy board of directors and was the board president from 1992 to 95. He brought both a passion for conservation and the practical sensibilities of an engineer and businessman to his work with ClearWater, and his leadership and support was instrumental in protecting and conserving such local treasures as Millbrook Marsh and Spring Creek Canyon.

“Don was of the mind that conservation was good business, that the apparent divide between business and conservation could be bridged,” says former ClearWater Executive Director Jennifer Shuey.  “I think his influence is why ClearWater today is still so centrist—and so successful–as an organization: he helped us recognize the need to draw people into conversation who might not seem, at first, to share a common goal.”

ClearWater board member Dan Crust agrees. “In the early days ClearWater was mostly reacting against proposed developments,” he says. “Don saw a bigger vision: to work constructively with government agencies and private developers, to realize you can’t save everything, and to commit to protecting the most important things.”

Don Hamer grew up in Illinois and was the first in his family to earn a college degree. After serving in the Navy, he came to State College in 1963 for a job with Erie Technological Products, and stayed, making Central Pennsylvania his home for the rest of his life. The business he launched in 1969 was extremely successful—State of the Art today is the leading American supplier of the high reliability resistors  used in the biomedical, communications, and the aerospace and defense industries.

With success, Don continued to live modestly and made philanthropy a priority. He created the Hamer Foundation, which supported not just ClearWater but dozens of organizations, mostly conservation and education causes. In a 2015 interview with the Centre Daily Times, he said “It’s a way of making me feel good. If you’ve got this much money, do something good with it, rather than just keep it.

If a practical, realistic approach to conservation is one of Don’s main legacies to ClearWater, another is how he moved the organization to focus on protecting Spring Creek. “In the 1990s he funded two landmark studies of the Spring Creek Watershed, identifying the things that need to be saved,” says Barbara Fisher, one of ClearWater’s founding members. “Those studies still guide ClearWater’s work today.”

A third legacy to ClearWater is the Don Hamer Land Conservation Fund—and here, as elsewhere, Don was thinking strategically. “He emphatically did not want to fund staff time or endowments,” Shuey remembers. “He wanted to see us carry out important projects. And he would challenge us to leverage his support–he was always thinking of the organization’s growth and development and how he could help make us stronger along the way.

Friends say one of Hamer’s proudest achievements is that resistors from State of the Art were used in NASA’s Voyager Spacecraft, launched in 1977…and are still going strong nearly 40 years (and 20 billion kilometers of space travel) later.

Here at ClearWater, we’re deeply grateful for Don’s vision, leadership, drive, and support.  We are proud of the accomplishments in conservation he has helped to make possible. We’ve been around almost as long as Voyager (35 years), we’re in the process of planning for the next 35. . . and we’re certain that Don Hamer’s contributions to conservation here in Central Pennsylvania will be even more spectacularly enduring.

Past ClearWater Conservancy board presidents at a 2004 board retreat--Don Hamer with Walt Ebaugh, Brian McCullough and Barb Fisher
Past ClearWater Conservancy board presidents at a 2004 board retreat–Don Hamer with Walt Ebaugh, Brian McCullough and Barb Fisher.