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Get Outdoors -- Enjoy nature on grassy road

By Sandra Chafin
Special to The Star

Next on the Trail Map – starting at the main gate and working due north – is Grassy Road in the Uplands and “Heart” of the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve. It’s grassy now and apparently always has been, hence the name.  

Take Depot Run or Pig Pen to get to Grassy Road.

So, it’s the same old images – beautiful majestic trees, saw palmetto, and natural beauty. To have the ability to hike in such a gorgeous setting is delightful. No tires squealing, no horns blaring, no loud mufflers, no sirens, no one making unpleasant noises at all. Just nature plain and simple and for one’s enjoyment and health. 

Grassy Road is 1.23 miles long. From Treasure Road hang a left on Depot Run and you will intersect Grassy Road. Or, you can travel Treasure Road to Pig Pen Road and reach Grassy Road. To walk the entire loop would be great, well, maybe in December or later, unless you are seasoned hiker or just determined.  

“In every walk in nature one receives far more than he seeks.” ~John Muir

Enjoy the grass, trees, bees, flowers, butterflies, birds, and other natural beauties in nature.  

Reviewing what we already know about walking in nature . . . Nature reduces stress levels. It’s good for everyone to reduce stress in their lives. Just being surrounded by nature helps one recover faster following surgery --- in the healing process. It reduces blood pressure and lowers the risk of cancer as well as raises people’s spirits.  

According to yes! Magazine, science is showing how immersion in nature speeds healing and acts as an antidote for many ailments. You can get your daily dose of soothing comfort --- from nature! It’s affordable and easy, with just the cost of a good pair of hiking shoes or boots the biggest expense. No excuses! 

Walking in the Buffer Preserve and seeing an eagle flying overhead or birds flying and making delightful sounds reminds us that a “birds-eye-view” helps us think in terms of a broader perspective in life.  

Observing vegetation, bees, butterflies, ants, turtles, and other wildlife reminds us that life is constantly evolving and adapting overtime. 

Your walks in nature have a healing power. There’s something to that adage, “Stop and smell the flowers”! It gives your brain time to unwind and rewind. Examining the leaves, rocks, native flowers, trees, can rejuvenate your spirit and give you a new appreciation for life. 

From a study done in a Pennsylvania hospital between 1972 and 1981, patients with a window-view recovered from surgery much faster than those who had a brick wall for their view. Patients with a nature view took less pain medicine and received positive observations from their nurses. It’s proven – nature heals. 

High blood pressure can be reduced with just 30 minutes of walking in nature. Meds for high blood pressure cost the U.S. over $48 billion a year and affects one in three Americans. Simple plan – just 30 minutes, daily. 

For those individuals wanting to reduce their chances of getting cancer – take a hike! In another study, people who walked – long walks, that is -- on two consecutive days showed an increase in their NK cells by 50 percent. It also showed an increase in the activity of these cells by 56 percent. As a bonus, these NK cells remained high for a month. What a significant number to improve one’s chances for not getting certain cancers. 

We have read or heard it before however, now might be the time to do something about our lackadaisical attitudes and habits. There are so many simple ways that getting outdoors proves to benefit us both psychologically and physically. 

Psychology Today suggest you can find your therapist by walking in nature. One good reason they point out is that negative energy seems to be absorbed by natural elements like plants trees, water, and sunlight. These elements have a calming effect on people and in these times, and, who couldn’t use some calming. 

There has been talk for a very longtime about not just living longer but having a better quality of life while you live longer. The trees, flowers, plants, on the Preserve will increase your chances for a better quality of life.  

Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world. ~John Muir

Saw palmetto grows in abundance on the Preserve. In doing research about saw palmetto I came across an excellent website which was a class assignment for Ben Stanghelle a student at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. There is so much to know about Serenoa repens – much more than I ever dreamed. Serenoa repens is the biological name for saw palmetto.  

Saw palmetto is a very hardy, extremely slow-growing palm – and, its ancestors are palms. It’s called a saw palmetto due to its leaves which look like a saw. It has spikes that run along the side of it.  

Under the tree canopy – the saw palmetto slowly grows.

Saw palmetto has been used by humans for a very long time. The Mayans used it as a tonic. Seminoles used the berries as an antiseptic. It was used as food before Columbus landed. Research tells us that oddly enough, saw palmetto was used to make soda in the 1900’s. Who would have thought?! 

Saw palmetto is found in the Southeastern U.S. and is very common in Florida. The pictures featured in these articles show a lot of palmettos under the trees. They grow on the ground under the canopy of trees. Since they do not receive a lot of sunshine, they have evolved over time by increasing the amount and size of their leaves.  

The saw palmetto is considered North America’s most abundant palm. They are extremely resilient, survive in low water conditions, and, love to live in places where fires occur often. They like acidic soil that does not have a lot of nutrients. Sound familiar from other articles about the Preserve?  

They are good recyclers as they have adapted to their environment in order to be efficient in collecting resources in a nutrient poor environment. One thing it does specifically to conserve nutrients is – recover nutrients from the leaves that are dying. The plant can conserve about 50% of a leaf’s nitrogen and 33% of a leaf’s phosphorous before the leaf is shed. This is important to the plant because it needs all the nutrients it can get in its poor environment. This is good recycling!  

One fascinating fact about saw palmettos is that they grow very slowly at their stems – and some are hypothesized to be 500 to 700 years old. Who knew?! 

How are saw palmettos important on the Preserve? They provide shelter for nests, protective cover and food. The endangered, Florida grasshopper sparrow is an example of the symbiotic relationship between them and animals.  

When saw palmettos are not being used for shelter or bedding, they are important as food for some animals such as black bears. Bees also gather nectar from the flowers. It is a much darker honey than Tupelo and is used mostly in baking. We have tasted it and it is good. In fact, one person on our staff prefers it because it is not so sweet. 

So . . . I learned so much more about saw palmetto or Serenoa repens than I ever dreamed. I knew the bees used the flowers and the bears ate the fruit and that some animals and reptiles’ nest in in them. I knew they were used for medicinal purposes but did not realize it was the same kind as we have on the Preserve. I hope you learned something new about the saw palmetto. I see it in an entirely new light now.