The importance of taking care of your mental health and an increased appreciation of the value of nature are two of the silver linings to come out of the COVID pandemic Parks Victoria has embraced them both, introducing a pilot program to encourage more people to experience the benefits of walking in the bush.
The free program, which sees trained volunteers take participants on a guided walk, has been a hit. Despite each walk being limited to 20 (or eight for the specialist Mindfulness Walk), last year more than 1,000 people participated in one of the walks at 14 sites throughout Victoria.
Stephen Parker, the Acting Senior Manager Health and Community Activation, says the program promotes social inclusion, connection, community health and wellbeing. It also feeds into the organisation’s goal of promoting visitation by underrepresented groups, including seniors, by providing an introduction to walks in a safe and accessible way.
'The guided walks provide a neat little introduction to parks to people who haven’t used them before, but it also gives them that social connection. We have a lot of return visitors who might come to the same park walk three or four times to catch up with people they’ve met on that walk,' Stephen says.
'There are a number of walks across the state too. So, it can give you the confidence to travel, knowing that when you get to that site, you've got a volunteer who's going to look after you, who's done that walk many times. So, it's safe, inclusive, and connected.'
The guides for the specialist Mindfulness walks focus on being in the present. Only available at King Lake and Churchill National Parks at the moment, the Mindful walks are usually booked out months in advance.
Feedback for the guided walks has been overwhelming positive, including:
'Our guides were very knowledgeable. I loved doing this new walk. I have a very poor sense of direction and avoid new walks as I’m worried about taking a wrong turn. I now feel able to do this walk again as part of my regular walking routine. Thanks Parks Vic!'
Parks Victoria now plans to expand the program by identifying or creating additional suitable walks and training more volunteer guides.
'Each walk has a volunteer and they get trained about the local park, the flora and fauna, so they can share those stories,' Stephen says.
The volunteers, who come from a range of ages and backgrounds, are key to the program. If you are interested in becoming involved, Stephen urges you to get in touch with Parks Victoria.
Reviewed 15 February 2023