Last week, we talked about the benefits of exercising outside, but if you have no idea where to start, than look no further than your closest state park. Our parks offer tons of ways to get active, from salsa dancing to stand-up paddleboarding. And if you’re lucky enough to live near Martinak, Tuckahoe, Rocky Gap, New Germany, Dan’s Mountain, or Patapsco Valley State Parks, then you get even more options through the Healthy Parks, Healthy People (HPHP) classes.
Maryland’s HPHP program started in the western parks about 3 years ago. Resident Ronni Matthews saw an advertisement of the scheduled events, which included hikes and “Wild Women Wednesdays”, a weekly program that connects women to nature while encouraging them to try new exercises. Since Ronni was already walking for exercise—and her initial response was, “I’m not a wild woman!”—she decided to try the hike. She reports, “It was very strenuous and I was the last one in the line.” But despite the sweaty and exhausting start, Ronni gradually attended more classes, like beach-front yoga and paddleboarding. Now, she tries to attend as many as she can, including Wild Women Wednesdays.
She says, “It’s the 3 F’s. The teachers are friendly—all fitness levels are welcome. The classes are fun. And the big kicker is, it’s free!”
In fact, you can even save money. A typical park-sponsored kayaking program would include a rental fee for the kayak. But HPHP kayaking classes provide the kayaks for free!
HPHP Programs are spreading across the state. According to Jenna Linhart, the HPHP Coordinator for Rocky Gap State Park, “If the classes aren’t already offered at a park, it’s on the staff’s radar.” She says, “Our goal is to build a stronger connection with the environment. People might come to the park for a specific workout, but the benefits they receive will be greater than what they get from the workout itself. Fresh air, birds singing, and a beautiful view can have profound effects on people, and hopefully lead to a stronger connection and appreciation for nature.”
Ronni agrees, “I feel so much better exercising outdoors. And exercising outside helped me develop a stronger environmental ethic. If I’m kayaking and I see a plastic bottle on the water, I want to pick it up.”
The HPHP community has also broadened Ronni’s class options. For instance, the High-Intensity Interval Training teacher has invited Ronni to her non-HPHP classes, giving Ronni an indoor option during the winter.
Each park organizes their own schedule, so if you want to attend an HPHP class, check out the Maryland.gov events calendar, search by keyword “Healthy Parks” and category “Parks”. Most classes do not require pre-registration, unless they have limited equipment, like kayaks or paddleboards. The parks rely heavily on local volunteers to lead classes. So if you want to volunteer your expertise and maybe get a free weekend of camping, contact your nearest park.