Trail Rx: New Wellness Program Offers Nature’s Cure | local news

CEDAR FALLS – Hiking in nature is a recipe for healing.

Scientific research has shown the physical and mental benefits of spending time in a natural environment such as nature reserves and forests. Being in nature, whether it’s walking or hiking, in quiet contemplation, or even bird watching, can help reduce feelings of anxiety, stress, fear, and anger, lower blood pressure and heart rate, improve breathing, and improve cognitive abilities improve and create a more positive attitude.

“I have seen the healing benefits of nature firsthand, and my patients who have accompanied me on guided hikes report amazing experiences with their physical, mental, and emotional health,” said Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, MD, a local physician for integrative medicine. She is also Medical Advisor for AllTrails, a mobile fitness and travel app used in outdoor recreation worldwide, and is Lead Physician for Chopra Health Retreats and Certified Forest Therapy Guide.

Hackenmiller works with the staff of Black Hawk County Conservation and the Hartman Reserve Nature Center on Trail Rx, a free outdoor wellness program at Hartman Reserve. It begins May 15 with an introductory program at 2:00 p.m. in the Hartman Reserve common room at 657 Reserve Drive in Cedar Falls. No registration is required to take part in the opening event.

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Trail Rx is described by Hartman as a “self-care prescription” that provides a framework to achieve a user’s wellness goals alongside guidance from their healthcare providers. Hackenmiller has worked closely with Connie Svoboda, development coordinator at Hartman and certified forest therapy leader, to identify “therapeutically prescribed pathways,” she said.

Five trails were designated as Trail Rx trails. These trails have been carefully surveyed for distance, elevation gain, terrain, physical activity goals, and other data.

“Suzanne wanted to have vantage points where they can stop and enjoy the scenery and have inclusion in mind so that everyone can access and get something good out of the trails,” Svoboda said. “There will be eight different stops along the five trails where participants will see signage with a QR code to access the Trail Rx website.”

The website launches on May 15th. There will also be a printed hiking map.

Collected data, audio files, links and additional information will be available at, with suggested mental health activities designed to help users connect with their senses, slow down, relax and quiet their minds. The program has already been endorsed by AllTrails.

Hackenmiller plans to work with local medical and health providers to raise awareness of the hiking program. For example, a doctor may recommend or “prescribe” Trail Rx to a patient recovering from surgery, or a counselor may suggest taking nature walks to improve mental health.

“Not everyone is interested in the physical fitness use of the trails, which brings us to the mental health aspect that applies to everyone. Click on the QR code for a mental health prescription, some kind of landmark or physical attribute, and guided invitations will appear, designed to help people absorb nature through their senses, get out of their heads and into the natural world,” explained Hackenmiller.

“I’ve seen patients in the clinic, particularly during and since the pandemic, with mental health-related issues exploding. I will talk to patients about conventional things, but as a complementary approach, “Why not consider going outside for a bit of exercise or a walk.” The benefits these patients have experienced are amazing and, quite frankly, remarkable.”

Svoboda said informal partnerships with local professionals who might issue a Trails Rx prescription “provide some accountability for people. Maybe you’ve thought about walking the trails for exercise and never got around to it. But if your doctor recommends exercise and you can run the Maple Loop three times a week, follow the doctor’s orders.

“We at Hartman are not medical professionals,” emphasized Svoboda. “We are simply hosting the program and providing an opportunity to benefit from Trail Rx. It is a good tool in a person’s wellness journey.”

Hackenmiller emphasized, “This is not time wasted, this is self-care. Going to the gym is kind of built into our culture, but it can get expensive. Going into nature is free and has its own health benefits.”

For more information on this or any other conservation program, please call (319) 277-2187 or visit us under the Events menu.

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