“The Environmental Preservation and Animal Welfare Grant Program focuses on preserving and providing access to the natural beauty of North Central Massachusetts, as well as enhancing the welfare of domestic animals,” said Stephen Adams, president of the Community Foundation. “This year’s recipients are doing amazing things to help protect and promote the quality of life for people and animals throughout our region.”
According to the UMass HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment, Fitchburg, Gardner, and to a lesser extent Leominster, exhibited significantly higher rates of chronic disease, mental health issues and crises than the state as a whole. Not surprisingly at-risk populations in these 3 cities also exceeded state averages. Their report states, “There is a growing appreciation that health system improvements related to access and the quality of health care services have a relatively limited impact on overall health status, at least on their own…In order to have real and sustained impact on overall well-being and the health disparities that exist in HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital’s service area, the Hospital and its partners must address the underlying social determinants, inequities, and injustices that are at the root of the health status issues that exist.”
Mounting research from across the globe suggests that improving equity in access to greenspace may help combat health inequities. Access to safe, nearby nature is a critical public health infrastructure. Research on the health benefits of nature highlights three particularly relevant outcomes, especially in communities most impacted by systems of inequity: 1) a sense of calm, restoration, and a measurable reduction in stress; 2) enhanced mood, reduced anxiety, and depression; and 3) improved resilience and ability to cope with adversity.
As NCLT conducts programming in the region, we recognize that we have work to do in helping to address this disparity. While NCLT has been proactive about acquiring land close to underserved populations in Fitchburg and Gardner, our ultimate goal is to make our conservation areas more integrated into the lives of the community members that surround them.
In addition to conserving land, outreach and education are priorities. North County Land Trust works closely with stakeholders in the communities it serves, including landowners, municipal officials, and community groups, to identify mutually beneficial land conservation goals. On a small scale, NCLT assists school groups, residents, and families in connecting with the natural environment in their communities through educational programs, nature hikes and other activities on publicly accessible conservation areas. However, this largely passive approach targets community members who may already be acquainted with nature and the outdoors.
This year, we are seek funding to help us increase our capacity to support Outdoor and Nature Education programming in our communities. This initiative will rely on partnerships with other like-minded organizations using NCLT as the hub for concentrating and sustaining program offerings to the public.
We appreciate the Community Foundation’s continued commitment to our work and all our environmental partners in the region.