TransformSustainability agenda › Connecting to nature

Nature for everyone everywhere

The instinct to connect with nature is in our genes. We want to walk under the trees, smell the moldering leaves, see the sunlight playing on the water of the stream. We are at home in the well ordered chaos of ecosystems. We and our children need this connection to be fully healthy and human.

Whole cities are healthier when nature is invited in. So we are not just protecting parklands and high quality natural areas. We are rebuilding cities in Northeast Ohio by reweaving nature into the urban landscape—restoring nature’s capacity to provide beauty, cooling, water retention and filtration, quiet, air purification and many other ecological functions. We aim to create sustainable human habitats by rooting them in natural systems.

Path into nature<br />The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail is the recreational spine of Northeast Ohio and one of the most popular trails in the country.Field trip<br />To combat nature deficit disorder, educational programs need to immerse kids in nature. (Photo by Cleveland Metroparks)Into the woods<br />Hiking at Lake Metroparks' Chapin Forest Reservation.Botany field trip<br />Jim Bissell, curator of botany at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, identifies a plant at Holden Arboretum. Growing hobby<br />Birders crowd the boardwalk at Magee Marsh to watch warblers and other spring migrants that stop at the marsh before crossing Lake Erie to northern breeding grounds. Lakefront access<br />One of the region's top goals should be greater public access to Lake Erie.

Goals for connecting to nature

Northeast Ohio has long valued the conservation of natural areas for the common good. Since 1917, the Cleveland Metroparks has preserved impressive stretches of the Chagrin River, Rocky River, Tinker's Creek and Euclid Creek. In the mid-1970s, the region took a big step forward by setting aside the Cuyahoga Valley between Cleveland and Akron. Since then, we’ve seen the expansion of park districts in Lorain, Medina, Summit, Geauga and Lake counties. And private conservation organizations, such as the Western Reserve Land Conservancy and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, have preserved thousands of acres of land.

In the future, we need to build on these successes. To live with nature—intimately and sustainably over the long term—here are three general goals:

  • Protecting all the pieces: After two centuries of logging, farming, urbanization and industrialization, there are precious few pristine places left in Northeast Ohio—few places with a relatively complete assemblage of native plant and animal species. These special places should be protected if not already. There should be enough protected land and water to assure that the region’s diverse ecosystems will be resilient and self-sustaining, even in the face of invasive species or climate change. We want our children to be able to experience the full biological diversity of the region.
  • Restoring what’s been lost: Most of the region is a managed landscape—somebody’s backyard. If more of these private lands were managed as wildlife habitats, we could begin to restore species diversity and ecological functioning across large areas. This will require different landscaping aesthetics, an appreciation of native plants, and the restoration of streams and natural water flows. Guided by a big vision of restoration, many small projects can add up and contribute to the health of larger ecosystems.
  • Connecting to people: Every household should have access to nature. New greenways can be created out of vacant land in urban areas. Trail systems can connect neighborhoods to parks and river corridors. And public access can be greatly expanded to Lake Erie, our greatest natural resource. 

How to help

In the coming months, GreenCityBlueLake staff will be working with partners to define a regional agenda for protecting and restoring natural systems—and how everyone can participate. 

What do you think are the key things that need to change? Contribute your ideas here.

Updated 10/10/12

The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.
— Richard Louv, The Nature Principle 

Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.
― Gary Snyder

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