Escape Into Nature On Your Next Trip (or Close to Home)

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"Rejuvenate your inner batteries" by spending time in a natural area. Photo: Julia Wasson

“Rejuvenate your inner batteries” by spending time in a natural area. Photo: Julia Wasson

Time away from the daily grind helps to keep us sane and motivated, and nothing rejuvenates our inner batteries like the peaceful experience of being fully immersed in nature.

Unfortunately, for city dwellers in particular, that can be a difficult outlet to find. Granted, watching a squirrel bury nuts for the winter or a beetle making its way across the bark of a tree can be a calming experience, possible in a backyard or in the midst of a city park. But just as Thoreau removed himself completely to Walden Pond to truly surround himself within the natural world, there’s something to be said for getting away from civilization altogether.

In small pockets within both rural and urban areas, the Nature Conservancy protects ecologically valuable land around the country. Typically free to visit and rarely advertised to tourists, these preserves provide a quiet haven where locals and travelers-in-the-know can discover the real essence of a place’s natural heritage. Best of all, they’re often within a 30 minute drive of major metropolitan areas (or smack-dab in the middle of them). If you’re planning out your next eco-friendly road trip, consider these and any other Nature Conservancy preserves on your itinerary.

Abita Creek Flatwoods Preserve — New Orleans, Louisiana

Just across Lake Pontchartrain from the Big Easy, Abita Creek Flatwoods Preserve, a 950-acre longleaf pine forest and savanna displays the riparian woodland environment that once dominated inner coastal Louisiana, before the shipping and oil industries took hold. A boardwalk crosses swampy parts of the preserve alongside namesake Abita Creek, where carnivorous pitcher plants and the endangered Louisiana Quilwort can be spotted.

Big Walnut Preserve — Indianapolis, Indiana

A National Natural Landmark, Indiana’s nearly 3,000 acre Big Walnut Preserve showcases virgin stands of massive eastern hemlock trees, scattered amidst beech, sugar maple, and poplar trees. Just half an hour west of Indianapolis, the park’s one-mile loop trail offers an immediate escape into the hilly woods of a bygone era before suburban sprawl. During the spring, visit to see a vast array of wildflowers in bloom, including trilliums and Virginia bluebells.

Lucius Pond Ordway/Devil’s Den Preserve — New York City/Norwalk, Connecticut

Seconds across the New York border, city dwellers can discover a primeval world amidst 1,756 preserved acres in the heart of Connecticut sprawl. An impressive 20-mile trail circuit winds throughout the land, including vistas from cliffs and rock outcroppings. Indian pipe and pink lady’s slippers are among the rare plants found at Devil’s Den, sharing the space with bobcats, red foxes and wood ducks.

Little Salt Fork Marsh Preserve — Lincoln, Nebraska

Central Nebraska’s salt marshes are a rare, little known, and highly threatened ecological phenomenon. The Little Salt Fork Marsh is a 176-acre preserve, minutes from Lincoln, protects one of the last remaining sites with active saline hydrology — groundwater from 200 feet below literally brings salt to the surface. Salt-tolerant grasses and insects like the Salt Creek tiger beetle exist here; it’s also an important resting ground along migratory routes for over a dozen bird species.

Finding the hidden places that demonstrate the true natural history of our homes is a fascinating endeavor, with the added benefit of calming our minds and helping to protect the native areas still remaining. They’re not as easy to find as national and state parks, but the rewards from visiting are often even greater.

What hidden treasures within a short drive of your hometown can you share with Blue Planet Green Living readers?

John Egan

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

John Egan is managing editor of Car Insurance Quotes, a leading online provider of car insurance news.