Column – Enjoy, protect natural resources while enjoying outdoors

Published 5:49 pm Friday, June 23, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Maribel Castaneda, Guest Columnist

Virginia is for all kinds of outdoor lovers. From the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the sandy shores of Virginia Beach, our state is home to incredible natural beauty that is unmatched anywhere else in the country. (I’m not biased or anything.) Virginia’s outdoors are a precious natural resource that provide numerous benefits to residents and visitors alike. From hiking and camping to fishing and birdwatching, these outdoor spaces offer a pause from the hustle and bustle of daily life and a chance to connect with nature.

I’m a champion for Virginia’s outdoors and there are many reasons why you should be, too. In 2021, outdoor recreation contributed $9.4 billion to the commonwealth’s economy and supported 107,000 jobs according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. These are big numbers, proving our natural resources are a crucial part of our state’s economy. Tourism is one of Virginia’s largest industries, and much of that tourism is driven by our state’s natural beauty. People come from all over the world to hike our trails, fish our rivers, travel in their RVs, and enjoy our beaches. By protecting our natural resources, we’re also protecting our economy and the jobs that depend on it.

Email newsletter signup

But the importance of Virginia’s outdoors goes beyond just economics; it is simply the right thing to do. Our natural resources are part of our state’s heritage and identity and make Virginia such a special place to live, work and visit. By working to protect our natural resources, we’re preserving a legacy for future generations. We’re ensuring that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy the same natural beauty that we do today.

Finally, natural resources are essential for our physical and mental well-being. Study after study has shown that spending time in nature is good for our health. It reduces stress, boosts our immune systems and even improves our cognitive function. In a world where we spend so much time indoors and in front of screens, our state’s outdoors provide a much-needed escape and a chance to recharge.

The recent formation of the Our Virginia Outdoors coalition is a positive step towards protecting and promoting these invaluable resources. Results of the 2017 Virginia Outdoors Demand Survey found that 70% of Virginians support public spending to prevent the loss of natural areas and open spaces. By bringing together conservationists, outdoor enthusiasts, and business leaders and other diverse stakeholders the coalition is working to ensure that Virginia’s outdoors remain healthy and accessible for generations to come. We’re building support for the recommendations found in the Virginia Outdoors Plan, the state’s comprehensive plan for land conservation, outdoor recreation and open-space planning. 

So whether you’re an avid biker, fisher, runner, kayaker, hunter, a nature lover or just someone who cares about the future of our state, there are many ways you can get involved. One of the easiest ways is to simply spread the word. Talk to your friends and family about the importance of protecting Virginia’s outdoors. Share information about Our Virginia Outdoors on social media and encourage others to get involved. The more people who know about the coalition, the more support we’ll have for our efforts.

You could also volunteer with a local organization that’s working to protect Virginia’s outdoors. There are many groups throughout the state that are doing important work, from cleaning up our rivers to preserving our forests. By volunteering your time and skills, you can make a real difference in protecting our natural resources.

June is Great Outdoors Month in the commonwealth. I’ll be enjoying some runs along the James River in Richmond and hiking trails at Massanutten Mountain. Whether you prefer a leisurely stroll through a park or a thrilling adventure in the great outdoors, Virginia has something for everyone.

Maribel Castaneda is an avid outdoors enthusiast from Harrisonburg and the coordinator for Our Virginia Outdoors. She grew up exploring the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and has since expanded her adventures to include camping, hiking and running. She is a passionate public administrator with more than a decade of experience in local and state government. Reprinted courtesy of Virginia Mercury,