Once the calendar ticks past September and autumn’s temperatures start dipping, it gets easier and easier to hunker down inside, keeping the elements at bay.
Resist that temptation.
“Fall is a great time to go outdoors — the temperature is just right compared to the summer or winter, and fall foliage just makes it even better,” said Chao Xie of Quincy, vice chairman of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Boston 20s and 30s Committee. “I think [getting outside] is especially important given the pandemic. People have been more stationary and maybe even isolated from others. The exercise and social interaction you get from hiking is beneficial to people’s physical health and mental health.”
Throughout eastern Massachusetts, larger organizations like the Appalachian Mountain Club(AMC), the Trustees of Reservations, and Mass Audubon, as well as regional groups like the Essex County Trail Association and the Wildlands Trust, offer a litany of properties and programs ― from nature hikes to barnyard strolls — inviting residents to embrace the outdoors during autumn.
“Getting people outside is a cornerstone of AMC’s mission,” said Faith Salter of Ayer, the organization’s director of volunteer relations. The Appalachian Mountain Club offers programs for adults and families with trained volunteer leaders, and many are free of charge, Salter said. “Volunteer-led events can either be very local and as short as an hour, or farther away and as long as a few days.”
The key to nurturing outdoor enthusiasts, said Salter, is encouraging “people to build time outdoors into their everyday routines.” Accessibility, she said, is a big part of that equation.
“AMC offers a learn-by-doing experience to build people’s comfort and confidence in the outdoors with time to socialize,” said Salter. “We love to go outside with other people. There are no go-it-alone events. We want people to make friends outdoors and then eagerly plan to get outdoors together again.
“We know that offering close-to-home experiences can create enthusiasm and confidence and can light up someone’s love of nature and exploration,” she said. “For decades, AMC has worked with partners in cities like Boston and Lawrence to train youth workers and educators with outdoor skills and provide access to gear and planning support so they can offer teen programs outdoors.”
Similarly, the Trustees of Reservations “is devoted to making sure everyone from every background has an accessible place to spend time safely outdoors,” said Janelle Woods-McNish of Dorchester, the Trustees’ managing director of community impact. That’s been especially important during the past 18 months of COVID.
“Studies have shown people who spend more time visiting green spaces are more likely to report good health and psychological well-being,” said Woods-McNish. “Nature’s restorative powers help us de-stress and promote healing, which is why we have programming such as yoga and mindfulness in our outdoor spaces, where people can center themselves.”
The impending colder weather shouldn’t be a deterrant.
“We continue to encourage people to come to outdoor places where they can exercise, rejuvenate, and safely congregate while still being distanced,” she said. “As the temperatures drop, it’s natural for people to want to return indoors, but our properties and programming are available year-round, and we encourage people to continue enjoying the outdoors even if it means they’re bundled up.”
For Paul Kelly of Somerville, education coordinator for Mass Audubon, the changing seasons offer different perspectives on the natural world.
“Fall in New England is especially attractive because of the beautiful foliage changes,” Kelly said. “Once those leaves have fallen from the trees, it’s easier to see deep into our mixed hardwood forests, which makes wildlife sightings more common. Fall is a busy time for animals as they need to gather resources before the winter hits.”
Mass Audubon is offering a post-Thanksgiving “Hike-A-Thon” from Friday to Sunday, Nov. 26 through 28, and participants get free access to Audubon’s “Hiking Essentials” online classes.
Bob Vogel of Easton, a four-season hike leader for the AMC’s Southeastern Massachusetts chapter, is offering Wednesday and Saturday hikes through the Boston chapter’s Local Walks Committee to entice newcomers to explore Audubon, state, and local conservation areas. Participant range in age from 20s to 70s, though some are as young as 8 or as old as 90, he said.
“These are typically 6- to 8-mile hikes at assorted locations south of Boston,” said Vogel. “I bill these hikes as ‘explorations,’ because we will be going to some places and trails I haven’t hiked myself, so we can all learn our way around.”
For those who weren’t previously hikers and want to start but are still reluctant to go on group hikes, there are apps like All Trails. Vogel said those apps “show local places you can go on your own, and provide maps and ‘You are here’ indicators to help you find your way.”
The Trustees also relaunched its free “Hike Trustees” program, encouraging people to record their excursions across the organization’s 120 properties. The initiative is a friendly competition geared toward connecting people with the outdoors, and the Trustees offer monthly prizes to participants who complete the most hikes and log the most miles.
As of late September, Hike Trustees had more than 7,147 participants (with 2,443 first-timers in 2021), recording 8,781 hikes covering 25,148 miles this year alone. Participants visited 119 properties, the most popular sites being Crane Beach in Ipswich, Noanet Woodlands in Dover, Rocky Woods in Medfield, Mary Cummings Park in Burlington, and Appleton Farms in Ipswich.
“Our special places have been a safe oasis for people reconnecting with nature during COVID,” said Jen Klein of Providence, director of outdoor experience for the Trustees. “This is just one more way to continue offering people inclusive, accessible spaces for renewal and respite.”
Like the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Trustees is “committed to reaching all audiences, whether you live in an urban, rural, or suburban community,” said Klein. To bolster that effort, the Trustees is partnering with organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs and Big City Mountaineers.
“The majority of people who visit our properties are fairly local to those properties,” she said. “The Trustees are well-positioned to reach urban audiences because we have three properties in urban communities — Copicut Woods in Fall River, Doyle Community Park in Leominster, and Haskell Gardens in New Bedford.”
Brion O’Connor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.