Finding Health and Wellness with a Walk in the Woods

Like so many sites along the 156 mile Chicago River system, the land and waters around the Chicago Portage National Historic Site have been transformed bringing with it human health and wildlife consequences. Vast woods, wetlands, and prairie that once teemed with wildlife are gone with the exception of the Chicago Portage site. Portage Creek which once flowed into the Des Plaines River was blocked off completely and the river itself was straightened for commercial use. Trucking depots, the Stephenson Expressway, and industry add air and water pollution to the local community.

Despite the impact of such developments the Des Plaines River, the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and the Chicago Portage site provide opportunities to build health and wellness.

An increasing number of studies show that regular encounters with nature are good for human health. Besides the obvious benefits of exercise and reductions in air and water pollution, a walk in the woods can improve mental health, reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, enhance immune system function, and increase self-esteem among other advantages. According to a study written about in Yale University’s Environment 360 online magazine published in January 2020, these benefits can be realized in 120 minutes a week.

The study of 20,000 people was conducted by a team from the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter which was led by Mathew White. According to the story written by Jim Robbins, the researchers “found that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces — local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spaced over several visits — were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t. Two hours was a hard boundary.” And the benefits were equal across populations regardless of occupation, ethnicity, economic wherewithal, and even people with chronic illnesses and disabilities

At the Chicago Portage site there are lots of ways to get well and have fun. People can:

  1. Wander through the exhibits about the Chicago Portage role in history
  2. Walk the trails on their own or with their dog, friends, or family
  3. Bird and animal watch
  4. Picnic
  5. Go on tours or volunteer to restore the site with Friends of the Chicago Portage
  6. Use it as a launch point to connect to the more than 27-mile Salt Creek Trail and dozens of other forest preserves