A dose of nature is good for body and soul

Vancouver Free Press – September 20, 2007
By Jack Christie

A dose of nature is good for body and soul

Do you or does someone you know suffer from nature-deficit disorder? If so, there's a quick fix: head outdoors. And if you've got kids, take them by the hand and bring them along. After all, studies have shown that children are the ones most prone to this 21st-century malady, and most are in need of more free time to experience the wild magic of nature.

In 2005, American author Richard Louv coined the term for this affliction when he published Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder (Algonquin). For his part, Ed Andrusiak, manager of Metro Vancouver Regional Parks, sees the recent opening of Brae Island Regional Park in Fort Langley as a positive step in fighting the condition. Andrusiak told the Georgia Straight that the new park would help provide a safe environment for family camping in an urban environment. "With land prices rising around the Lower Mainland, many private campgrounds are being redeveloped as housing. For a lot of urban families, this means less opportunity to spend a night under the stars. And from what I've learned from groups like the Children and Nature Network and the Nature Child Reunion project, there's a greater need now for kids to experience the outdoors away from their computers and televisions, especially given the alarming rise in obesity rates."

Canada's Parks Day on July 21 was an opportune time to open Metro Vancouver's 21st regional park. Brae Island sits directly west of Fort Langley on the Fraser River's Bedford Channel. The privately owned Fort Langley Camping and RV Park underwent major renovations last winter and reopened as Fort Camping under a lease agreement. Despite damp conditions, plenty of visitors turned out at the opening to explore the waterfront day-use area and the more than two kilometres of wheelchair-accessible interpretive trails that lead across the forested island.

There's more to do on Brae Island year-round than just camp. With Derby Reach nearby and Matsqui Trail farther upstream by Mission, there are now three regional parks in which to overnight beside the Fraser River. Day-trippers and campers alike can take part in the paddle-sport and other recreational programs offered by Fort Camping. Or simply walk or cycle across the connector bridge to check out Fort Langley National Historic Site and the heritage buildings that line the streets around the 1850s-era Hudson's Bay Co. trading post. For many visitors, just watching the river flow will be reason enough to journey there.

Pediatrician Joseph Lin is equally keen to counter obesity with a natural dose of prevention. Soon after arriving in Vancouver from Taiwan in 1993, Lin founded the Green Club under the auspices of the Taiwanese Canadian Cultural Society. Six years later, the club became fully independent. These days, membership hovers at about 400. Earlier this month, the Straight caught up with the energetic Lin as he was about to lead a group of Mandarin-speaking participants on Metro Vancouver Parks' annual "coho walk" in Capilano River Regional Park, which straddles West and North Vancouver. Before setting off, he asked for a show of hands from those who had visited the park before. Of the 50 or so in attendance, only five people had. This came as no surprise to Lin. "Fifty percent of the Taiwanese community is overweight," he noted. "They need to get out for a healthy walk. One way to do that is to introduce our local environment to these new immigrants."

With that in mind, Lin not only leads walks, he also sends out regular e-mails to club members on topics such as air and water quality, healthy lifestyle choices, and sustainability and biodiversity. "Green culture provides a healthy way of understanding multiculturalism, which is just the same as biodiversity. Nature evolves in the same way that our society does. When we use biodiversity as an example, we teach the true meaning of sustainability."

As a child in Hsinchu in northern Taiwan, Lin accompanied his family on yearly trips to the beach as well as into the hills that rise behind the coastal city. He pointed out that Taiwan, which is slightly larger than Vancouver Island, is even more mountainous than the Lower Mainland, with hundreds of peaks rising above 3,000 metres. When he arrived in Canada, he said, one of the first things he did was join the Vancouver Natural History Society. "I didn't know much about ecology then," the 54-year-old admitted. "Together with my wife and two kids, we started to attend walks in GVRD parks every weekend. When we formed the Green Club, we invited local naturalists to join us, and I would translate as we went along. In this way, our club is unique in its approach to environmental education. Most other Chinese organizations are purely for social gatherings."

Lin was a quick student. Inspired to get the green message out to the local Asian Canadian community, he began writing daily articles and sending them to Chinese media outlets. "After a few years, I was not just regarded as an interpreter but also an environmentalist. Now when that kind of story breaks, they call me for analysis." For the past three years, he has hosted a weekly radio broadcast and, more recently, a similarly themed television show, both for the Fairchild Media Group. "I have the ability to organize people. Environmental education takes time. It takes time to change people's minds. When I talk to club members, I emphasize the relationship of environment and health. To me, this is the most important aspect I speak about."

ACCESS: To learn more about the Green Club, visit the Green Club
Details on the new Brae Island Regional Park are posted at www.gvrd.bc.ca/parks/ and www.fortcamping.com/
For information on the Kesho Trust's Nature Child Reunion project, visit www.naturechildreunion.com/

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