Among the Pines

June 24, 2019 | Martha D. Saunders, Ph.D.

Two students sitting on a wooden dock
Two students enjoying UWF's natural beauty

Universities are measured in all kinds of ways, from the size of their endowments to the number of state-of-the art buildings or capacity of their classrooms. Important metrics to be sure, but UWF has an additional asset other schools envy but most will never have—a glorious, 1,600-acre campus of natural grandeur, bordered by two rivers and a coastal bay. Within it, a majestic canopy of trees creates a stunning setting for living and learning on our campus.

UWF’s original campus plans emphasized preserving its natural landscape. More than 50 years later, our students and visitors take full advantage of all that our beautiful campus offers—whether it’s following the Edward Ball Nature Trail through Thompson’s Bayou and over a hardwood swamp, or biking and hiking along 20-plus miles of trails located on the westernmost 600 acres of campus. Four cross country trails wind through the Baars-Firestone Wildlife Sanctuary, where runners can explore varied terrain through sandhill, hammock and wetlands habitats.

A 1.6 mile LEAD trail, established by the UWF Staff LEAD program class of 2014-2015, invites community members to visit and find adventure, discovering new areas of campus or appreciating those already known and loved.

This Time Magazine article details recent research on the numerous health benefits of "forest bathing." The article includes a study sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, which found the average American spends 93% of his or her time indoors. As Dr. Qing Li, author of "Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness," states in the article, "...the good news is that even a small amount of time in nature can have an impact on our health. A two-hour forest bath will help you to unplug from technology and slow down. It will bring you into the present moment and de-stress and relax you."

For me, immersing myself in nature has a positive influence on my disposition. On any given day, I find that a walk across campus can make me instantly feel livelier. We are fortunate because the privilege of stepping from outside of a classroom right into nature is abundant at UWF. Escaping the stress of college and work by surrounding oneself in nature, even briefly, is an invaluable gift, one unavailable at many academic institutions.

At UWF, we’re utilizing our outdoor trails to make history. This year, we became the first university in North America to host parkrun, a series of timed 5Ks on Saturday mornings that are free and open to the public. After visiting two parkrun events in Ireland, Pensacola resident Robin Foley introduced the idea of parkrun to Caleb Carmichael, head coach of the UWF men’s and women’s cross country teams, and Howard Reddy, vice president for university advancement.

Carmichael, Foley and UWF facilities cleared the UWF Baars-Firestone Wildlife Sanctuary trail used by UWF cross country in time for the inaugural run on Feb. 9, 2019, which marked the largest North American parkrun launch to date.

With a campus abounding in natural beauty and offering ample space to grow, there is truly no limit for what we can accomplish at UWF.