Local trails accessible to students contribute to health
In January of 2020, just before the effects of the pandemic reached the United States, a research team out of Cornell collected data that suggested just ten minutes of intentional time spent outdoors or in a natural setting drastically helped reduce the negative effects of stress in college students, with the potential of making them happier and healthier.
With Bethel being a primarily rural campus—the small community of North Newton to the west and a field to the east—it is relatively easy for students to spend time outdoors. However, with busy schedules, even taking ten minutes to be outside without the burden of school or work is difficult.
The Sand Creek Trail is a more obvious option and one that many students take advantage of during their stay at Bethel. It is one of the more secluded locations and features many native trees, birds, and of course, plenty of squirrels. Additionally, the trail has a variety of options for length: a longer walk includes the full loop by the interstate, but a shorter walk might take you as far as the trail break, or to the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) building just south of the cross country course. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can always explore the course itself, though it is generally less maintained in the off-season.
Northwest of the North Newton community is a relatively new trail that was established for the community. While it is more residential and far less wild than the Sand Creek Trail, it is one of the longer local trails. A walk on this one will take more than ten minutes, but you will be breathing fresh air for a considerable period of time—if you need to get away for more than thirty minutes, this is the trail for you.
My favorite place to walk, however, would be the residential areas of North Newton. With Strava in hand, documenting the winding miles around sidewalks (and roads, when the sidewalk ends), stopping occasionally for a quick conversation with one of the locals or to pet someone’s dog as I traverse various pathways to the small pond at the west end of town. It tends to be less scenic, but one has the opportunity to engage with the broader community at a more leisurely pace and survey some local gardens. If you are feeling extra adventurous, you might just stumble upon Hidden Stems Greenhouse in North Newton on one of these walks.
I remember reading a short piece in the Magnolia Journal published last fall. The writer talked about how she had spent the last few decades of her life walking nearly every morning, exploring the locations around her and using it as her excuse to stay healthy and get outside regularly. I found myself inspired.
For those of us with busy schedules and little to no time to 1) be off on our own off campus, 2) be outside and free of responsibility and 3) appreciate the community just next to campus, taking a walk on one of these trails can be an easy, manageable way to maintain our health and appreciate the beginning of spring.