For the past six months, the Times-Union editorial page has been taking a Saturday tour of the parks in this magnificent corner of our world.

 

We’ve taken you from the swamplands of Georgia to the ravines of Clay and Putnam counties, from the historical sites of Baker County to the parks that give Jacksonville the title of “largest urban park system” in the country.

Our hope was that you’d make a resolution to visit some of these gateways to the natural world.

Because as more and more of us have left the country in favor of cities, we’ve lost our connections to that world. But the noisy, busy urban lives we live are driving us crazy.

Studies have found that city dwellers have a 21 percent higher risk of anxiety than people living in more rural area. On top of anxiety, they also have higher rates of depression and stress-related illnesses.

One reason may be that as urban dwellers, many of us forget to take time to enjoy the simpler pleasures associated with the out-of-doors.

Yet they’re pleasures whose worth is buoyed by science.

GOod FOR OUR HEALTH

In fact, this research shows that a walk in the park can improve our health.

“There is mounting evidence that contact with nature has significant positive impacts on mental health,” said Mardie Townshed, a professor of health from Australia who has studied the connections.

Here’s a few of those potential benefits provided by nature:

• Improved short-term memory.

• Decreased brooding on problems.

• Restored mental energy.

• Stress, depression and anxiety relief.

• Reduced inflammation.

• Improved concentration.

• Sharper thinking and increased creativity.

• Immune system boost.

Most beneficial to our health may be those dramatic bits of wildness that fill visitors with awe, according to a 2015 study.

Grand vistas or the thundering grandeur of the ocean seem to have an even larger positive effect on mood than more mundane outdoor sights.

STUPENDOUS PARKS

And we certainly have plenty of these awe-inspiring parks.

Take, for example, the powerful panoramas of the ocean at Cumberland Island and Guana River State Park. Or the gentler, but no less inspiring, visual muscle provided by our meandering waterways and still lakes.

Then there’s the never-ending scenes at places like our marshes and swamps where waving grasses and glassy water extend to the horizon.

And who isn’t affected by this area’s towering and ancient oaks, dripping with smoke moss and festooned with resurrection fern?

Our little corner of the world offers an astounding variety of such landscapes.

And there are just as many ways to access these health-inspiring spots.

Our parks provide miles upon miles of trails where hikers or the more-energetic joggers can stretch their legs and rest their minds. Some parks even welcome bikers and horseback riders to come and enjoy their fresh air.

Entrée to this area’s waterways — of which there are many — can be gained via boat, and numerous parks throughout the area have established boat launches or themselves rent boats to park visitors.

The mighty St. Johns River can even be explored via the city’s river taxis, which tie together the city’s southern and northern riverfronts. The same taxis can also take visitors on sunset cruises or to the zoo.

Peace of mind can also be found at the countless beaches that stretch along the First Coast from the pristine beauty of Cumberland Island to the more well-traveled Jacksonville beaches.

Even in the middle of our concrete cities, oases of green can be found, such as the shaded spots beneath arms of the massive Treaty Oak or the azalea-filled hollows at Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka.

We are blessed with natural riches.

Take advantage of them.