Midwestern Medicine  

The benefits of outdoors during COVID-19 

Paige Zezulka, Staff Writer/Copy Editor

            Nature has always been an organic healing solution for many civilizations throughout history. Whether it be physically, mentally, socially, or economicallyits positive impact is endless. During the pandemic, Wisconsin’s great outdoors have become a natural medicine to the Midwest state. 

“Outdoor recreation is essential to our economy, quality of life, our personal well being, and happiness,” says Preston Cole, the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “It’s clear to us in navigating the pandemic that parks, Wisconsin natural resources, are in general an essential for Wisconsinites.” 

Spending time outdoors gives people a chance to find peace of mind and to decompress. It provides space for people to be active in fresh, clean environments. From biking, hiking, and climbing to swimming, canoeing, or kayaking; the exercise one can get from being outdoors is limitless. Nature is there to help create new relationships and keeps the ones already present healthy.  

“Health and wellness is a huge benefit, I think, in the outdoors for a lot of people,” says Keith Warnke, the Administrator for Fish, Wildlife and Parks at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “It builds self-confidence. It refreshes the mood. It lets you get out and breathe some fresh air and reduces stress and allows you to blow off some steam.” 

Warnke admits that nature is “in his blood.” The outdoors have been there for him to be able to “have fresh air to breathe, clean water to recreate in, to unwind, [and] to just be able to spend time with family and friends.” 

The outdoors helps the state economically as well by providing tens of thousands of jobs. The businesses that supply outdoor gear are skyrocketing in sales due to the popularity of people being outdoors this year. There are also local businesses that rely on seasonal visits around state parks, especially during hunting and fishing seasons.  

“Outdoor recreation counts for $7.8 billion of economic impact in Wisconsin,” according to Cole. Hunting alone has about a $4.5 billion of impact annually.  

With the help of its residents and outsiders coming from all around, Wisconsin has seen a major increase in visitors since last year. These millions of visits contribute to funding the conservation of Wisconsin’s state parks, wildlife management, fisheries, hunting, and local businesses. 

During a pandemic, it is understandable that citizens may not want to leave their homes. Because of this, the Department of Natural Resources has taken the proper precautions to keep the outdoors safe. They practice social distancing methods by spacing out picnic tables, limiting the number of people in groups, sanitizing public areas, and closing indoor facilities.  

“If you are nervous about being outside, I think the recommendation is just take small steps and do only what you are comfortable with. Spend time in your own yard or, yes, put on a mask and spend some time walking around the block and just taking it slow and getting yourself acclimated to it,” says Warnke 

It is recommended to take some time outdoors. In fact, being outside is believed to be a safe place during this pandemic. If you go days on end being cooped up inside for too long, your body and mind may just reflect that.  

Since the public health emergency was declared by Governor Evers in March, Wisconsin has been trying to pull through the challenges that have risen. Thus, many people are still taking the proper precautions and staying at home as much as possible. Classes have turned online, working from home has become a new norm, mass gatherings are still looked down upon, and people are still social distancing and wearing masks. As a result, with Wisconsin in the backyard, many people have taken advantage of what the region has to offer 

With up to 49 state parks to choose from, the midwestern scenery is a mix of woodlands, marshes, plains, bluffs, and water sources from streams, to rivers, numerous lakes, and waterfalls.  

“I think that the opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in Wisconsin are available and you know the biggest decision you have to make is which one of them you want to pursue, or which several of them you want to pursue all in one day,” says Warnke.