Hikes for Health challenge aims to unearth local hidden gems

Metro Atlanta may be densely populated with people, cars, and tall buildings — but look a little closer, and you’ll find hidden pockets of emerald green amidst the shimmering skyline.

“We have 22 acres of green space, including wetlands…it looks like the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.”

Debbie Griffin is describing the Dunwoody Nature Center, for which she serves as director of development.  

“What we do here is educate about our natural surroundings, inspire others to be outdoors and enjoy it, and also preserve,” Griffin explains.

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The Dunwoody Nature Center is one of 10 metro Atlanta greenspace nonprofits currently collaborating on a new project, called Hikes for Health; Buckhead’s 30-acre Blue Heron Nature Preserve is another.

“Since August 2018, we’ve gotten together, we have networked, we have toured each other’s trails and green spaces, and we decided that we needed to do something really special,” says Blue Heron Nature Preserve executive director Melody Harclerode. “Over the years, we wanted to collaborate, but we couldn’t figure out the exact ‘what.’  What would it be that we could do, something better than just one individual organization?”

The answer was Hikes for Health — challenging locals to explore 10 trails, located in 10 different green spaces, over the span of 10 months. Chastain Park Conservancy, Chattahoochee National Park Conservancy, Chattahoochee Nature Center, Friends of Lost Corner, Parks Cobb County, Peachtree Creek Greenway, Sandy Springs Conservancy, and Livable Buckhead are also part of the challenge, along with community partners REI and Kaiser Permanente.

The idea is to unearth these hidden gems, from the rushing water of the Dunwoody Nature Center to the heart-stopping hills of Buckhead’s PATH 400.

“PATH 400 is a walking-biking trail, and it runs along the spine of Georgia 400.  And when it’s finally completed — we’re about 80-percent done — it’ll be 5.2 miles,” says Livable Buckhead’s Anna Sharp.  “There’s some killer hills on PATH400 that I highly recommend getting your heart rate up on!”

Organizers say as the heart rate goes up, they hope stress levels go down — using all that gorgeous green as a way to lessen the blues.

“The studies have shown about the medicinal, the therapeutic part of nature, connecting with nature, of walking - of just spending time listening and absorbing the beauty of nature,” says Harclerode.

For more information on the Hikes for Health challenge — and to sign up — click here.  As of now, the challenge is scheduled to run through June of 2021.

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