William & Mary

Park Rx Day: celebrating nature’s profound power

  • Greenhouse gems:
    Greenhouse gems:  Students had the chance to learn about the plants growing in the Integrated Science Center Greenhouse as part of Campus Park Rx Day.  Photos by Kristen Popham '20
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On Friday, as Williamsburg exhibited the full extent of its fall charm and characteristically unconventional December warmth, the William & Mary community engaged in its first Campus Park Rx Day.

Designed to engage students in the outdoors and broaden the impact of William & Mary’s Park Rx initiative, the event featured a nature walk, Integrated Science Center Greenhouse tour, interactive lecture and platform for student ambassadors to “prescribe” parks to their peers.

“Park Rx is a national movement encouraging health care providers to prescribe time outside as a supplement to whatever other prescriptions they’re giving a patient,” said Annabel McSpadden ’18, assistant director of the Campus Park Rx program.

Elli Cryan '18 leads a tour of the ISC Greenhouse. (Photo by Kristen Popham '20)“We started our own branch that we call Campus Park Rx,” she added, “which is not health care providers prescribing parks to students, but students being trained to prescribe parks to their peers.”

At W&M, the Parks Research Lab manages two Park Rx programs: the Greater Williamsburg Area Park Rx, which trains healthcare providers to prescribe time outside to patients, and Campus Park Rx, which trains student to do the same but with their peers.

McSpadden, who assisted in the organization of Friday’s event in conjunction with Dorothy Ibes, director of the Parks Research Lab, described the semester-long preparation as a “continuous process” that culminated in the symposium, “integrating health and the outdoors” for the campus community.

Among the day’s events that McSpadden deemed particularly successful was a lunch with students, health care providers and a prominent figure of the national Park Rx movement, Dr. Robert Zarr.

“It was amazing to get to hear them all talk to each other about what they think our student body needs and what kind of attitude shift would be healthiest for William & Mary,” McSpadden said.

“It was exciting,” she continued. “They asked us for the student’s point of view.”

{{youtube:medium|RBvrkX2V5Mw, Chancellor Professor of Biology Dan Cristol leads a walk in the woods}}

The interactive campus event also featured a tour of the ISC Greenhouse by William & Mary’s Botany Club. Led by Elli Cryan ’18, the tour highlighted an impressive variety of succulents and milkweed, among other green items in what Cryan termed “the library of plants.” With an infectious enthusiasm about the space’s greenery and her own experience with the plants, Cryan explained the practices of student researchers. She described methods of “plant tricking” through temperature modification and processes of stocking up on milkweed to feed the butterflies — that, according to Cryan, “eat like crazy!”

Kat Mail '17 explores the greenhouse. (Photo by Kristen Popham '20)Kat Mail ’17, a participant in the tour, described the experience as altering her perspective about science.

“I’ve always found science intimidating, but the greenhouse makes it feel so approachable,” she said. Mail explained that the tour was especially compelling because “it was a sensory experience where you can see, smell, and touch the result of other students' studies and diligent care. Even a social sciences nerd like me can appreciate that.”

Campus Park Rx Day served as an additional step to advance the campus-wide conversation about health and wellness and the important role of nature therein.

Asked to characterize the importance of this movement, and this day, for the William & Mary community, McSpadden explained, “William & Mary is a culture of very high-achieving, impressive students. That can work so well for us as a student body but also, along with that, we need to take extra measures to remember that we should take care of ourselves and take care of one another. I think the outdoors is a really integral component to that care.”